simplyjan

A Simple Look at a Not-So-Simple Life

Archive for the category “Children”

Choosing Brave

I fought back the tears as I drove away from my children’s school after dropping them off this morning. They were exceptionally brave on the ride there. I tried to be more chipper than usual, asking questions and starting conversations. Mia and I are not morning people, so our early morning ride is usually quiet except for the occasional “Gus, stop!” whenever his morning hyperactivity gets to be too much. Today, though, I felt the need to fill the silence. I flipped the radio from station to station, trying to avoid any DJ talk of anxious students and teachers returning to school. Christmas music – happy Christmas music was what I wanted in their ears and thoughts.

Mrs. W, their principal, greeted them at the curb with a wide and welcoming grin as they piled out of the back seat. She always smiles that way at her students. She genuinely loves them, you can just tell. I wanted to tell her thank you, or beg her to keep my children safe. Instead, I smiled back and said, “I hope y’all have a great day!”

Maybe it was her smile that did me in. As I pulled away from the curb after calling, “I love you” at my children’s departing backs for about the 10th time, I glanced once more at Mrs. W’s face and tears began to well up. I believe – no, I know - that just like another certain principal at another certain elementary school far away from our own, this woman would put her life on the line to protect my children. To protect all of her children – for that is what she calls them when they are in her care.

I didn’t actually cry, however. I blinked those tears away. Don’t get me wrong. I’ve cried many tears for those precious slain children and the adults who died trying to protect them. No. I wasn’t going to cry because my children put on brave faces and marched into their school in spite of the anxiety I know they felt. I wasn’t going to cry because Mrs. W showed up for work today with a smile on her face in spite of the stark reminder from a few days ago that her job of loving children could potentially cost her her life. I wasn’t going to cry because I refuse to let a deranged young man steal joy and freedom from my family. I wasn’t going to cry because I refuse to live in fear or to teach my children to live in fear.

Can I know with absolute certainty that my children will be 100% safe? Do I believe that they are totally shielded from any possibility of violence or tragedy? Of course not. But I spent a lot of time this weekend weighing the good and the bad, the known and the unknown, the sure things and the murky possibilities. When it was all said and done, I decided to put on my brave face, blink away the tears, and drive my children to school. After all, God did not give us a spirit of fear, but of power and love and self control. (II Timothy 1:7)

Maybe tomorrow, or the next day, or sometime after Christmas, I will feel the brave that I choose to live.

Notes from the First Week of School

Signs of Contentment

“It seems like we’re at school for just an hour and then it’s time to go home.” ~ Mia

The school year is off to a good start for the kids. Mia doesn’t have many of her old friends in her new class, but she has been talking about her new best friend, Sophie. Her best-est BFF from last year moved away over the summer. She does get to see two of her other good friends from last year every day at recess, so life is good. 

“I want to give my teacher a gift. She’s the best teacher in the whole wide world!     ~ Gus

Gus has a new “very best friend” who filled the slot vacated by Austin, who moved over the summer. The downside to attending school on a military base is that they have to say goodbye to friends a lot. The upside is that they meet new friends who have lived all over the country and the world. I am thinking that he may have his very first crush on a teacher. He hasn’t even fussed (yet) when I get him to re-do parts of his homework so that it will be neater. He wants it to be good for Ms. Dillard.

Most Interesting Car Conversation of the Week

As we drove home from school on Tuesday, the kids were looking at the world map in their school agendas. Mia said, “There’s France. That’s on my bucket list.” (Hmmm. What does a 9-year-old know about bucket lists?) “And Greece. And Italy. Don’t you think Italy would be fun, Mom?” (I’m thoroughly impressed with her choices and hope she’ll let me tag along.) Gus is equally enthralled with the map. He chimes in with, “Afghanistan is on my bucket list. And Iraq. And I really want to go to Haiti, too.” (Oh goodness. Boys really are different, aren’t they? I am not so sure I want to tag along on his trips – at least to the warring Middle East.)

Update from College

Anna loves living back on campus. An apartment is much better than a dorm, even if the apartment is freezing most of the time. She likes her classes. She will be reading “all the time” this semester. She, along with everybody else, is fighting the back-to-campus crud that always appears when hundreds of students converge in a confined area. She’s eating all kinds of new and interesting foods – a first for her. Thank God I have custody of Rookie, or she might have such a good time that I would never see her!

As for Mom . . .

I’m back at the gym. I’m sore, but loving it. I’ve loved being super-productive at work this week. I’ve been waking up before the alarm goes off every morning, which is highly unusual since I most certainly am not a morning person. Of course I miss having Anna around, but I am thrilled to hear her sounding so happy and excited. I hope our routine will become normalized over the next week or so. In the meantime, I am thankful for good beginnings.

The Official End of Summer

I wrote about its beginning 80 days ago. I was an anxious mother/pastor/individual at that point. I can now say that I did in fact manage to not only survive the summer, but to enjoy most of it. June was great. Then the heat came. I’m not talking regular summer heat, but “when did I arrive in Hades” heat. Too hot to let the kids play outside for any length of time. Too hot to take long walks, much less run. Too hot to even enjoy the beach. If you know me, then you know that means it truly had to be beyond oppressively hot.

In all honesty, I think that summer would have been perfect if it had ended around the third week of July. By that time, the kids were getting antsy and bickering became their favorite pastime. By that time, this mom had endured about as many weeks of 24/7 as she could stand. About that time, our annual trip to the (relative) coolness of the heaven known as “Montreat” had to be cancelled due to serious family health issues.

Three weeks ago, I dragged my worn-out, burned-out hiney to the farm for a week with family. I got to meet and cuddle my new great-nephew, play with my adorable great-niece, and enjoy catching up with my beautiful niece and my parents. I got to return to my farm-girl roots and help move cows. (Side note: If a very large, ornery cow wants to go a direction different from the one you want her to go, pointing your finger at her and yelling “NO!” in your sternest, most no-nonsense Mother voice won’t necessarily work. I think I’m out of practice. As a farm girl, not as a mother, that is. I can “NO!” with the best of the moms out there. For the record, she obeyed, but only because she was too busy laughing at me to do otherwise.) I got to hide away in the camper for sound sleep at night and take a nap almost every afternoon. Oh, and I almost overdosed on the Olympics.

Oct 15, 2011 download 014I wish I had a picture of Freckles, the cow who thinks I’m an idiot!

That gave me enough energy to return home just in time for the Hands of Christ outreach days at our church. Three days. Over 800 children. Uniforms, school supplies, excited children, stressed parents, compassionate volunteers, and noise. Oh, and thunderstorms. There is simply nothing in this world more exhausting. Or more satisfying. Can’t wait to do it again next year!

HOCEven the kids LOVE Hands of Christ!

Last week was filled with last minute preparations for school and getting ready to move Anna to her apartment downtown. I just want to ask, who gave her permission to be 20, a college junior, and ready to move away? I’m quite sure it wasn’t me! So Friday we got her moved. Saturday the kids and I attended not one, but two birthday parties for super-special people. (Happy birthday, Cathy and Janice!)  And then Sunday we celebrated my youngest daughter’s birthday. I was super excited for/with Mia about turning 9 until a church member pointed out to me that it would be her last year as a single digit. Gee thanks, Melvin! One year until my baby is double-digits! Tell me, please, who is handing out growing up permission slips to my kids left and right without running it by me first?!

The GirlsEnjoying some Marble Slab ice cream. The birthday girl loves her some ice cream! 

And then it happened. Monday. The first day of school. The first day of all of my kids happily engaged in the work of growing up at their respective schools leaving me alone and free to . . . Wait. What is it that I’m supposed to do when I’m alone and free? Hmmm. It’s coming back to me: Go to the gym! Run errands quickly and efficiently! Engage in uninterrupted thoughts for more than five minutes at a time! She’s baaccckkkk!

Confession. I missed the monkeys. I was ready to pick them up at 2:10 and to hear about their first day back. And I met my 20-year-old for lunch on her last day before college classes start. After all, we had to celebrate Cathy’s birthday today. It was the good, right, and fun thing to do! (Another side note: I have a new favorite restaurant – Page’s Okra Grill. Mmmm, mmmm, good! Lunch next week, girls – after Cathy gets back home?)

It’s been a good day. It’s time for the seasons to cycle back around as we all take new steps toward growing into who we are to become. Even I am still doing that. Growing isn’t just for kids, you know. I can’t wait to see what we learn, what we do, and how our personalities evolve over the school year.

I better pay attention because before I know it I will be writing another beginning of summer post!

Angel’s Wings, God’s Birthday, and Other Deep Theological Questions

A friend’s 6-year-old daughter asked him some deep theological questions this weekend. I’m sure he did just fine answering her questions, but he also sent them on to me to see if I had any wisdom to add to his attempts. These are some toughies, but here it goes:

questions1

Dear S.,

You are one more bright, inquisitive young lady with some excellent questions! You’ve obviously been doing a lot of thinking, which is more than most adults can say. Good for you!

First, I hear that you’re interested in knowing if all angels have wings. I haven’t seen it with my own eyes yet, but I believe that all angels in heaven do have wings. Of course, sometimes angels make trips down to earth to help us out and to keep us out of danger. Angels on earth don’t have their wings. I think it’s because the NSA (National Security Agency) revoked their security clearance to use their wings down here. You see, they are residents of Heaven, and the King of Heaven is known to be subversive and dangerous. I believe he is even on the terrorist alert list. They use the stories about the destruction of the Tower of Babel, the Flood, and the Plagues as proof. Also, the King’s Son has been heard talking about establishing a new kingdom on earth. Because of the angels’ close allegiance to the King and his Son, they too are considered with suspicion.

Second, you wanted to know when God’s birthday is. I wish I knew! I’ve heard rumors that certain seminaries (schools that train pastors) have possession of The Big Book of Answers. I hear it is a very big, very detailed book. Everything in it is in black and white – no color and no shades of gray. Apparently some pastors have access to that book and therefore have some definitive knowledge that other pastors don’t. I didn’t graduate from one of those pedigree seminaries, so I haven’t seen it. I’m sure the answer to your question is in that book somewhere. Maybe you can find one of the pastors who has seen it one day. (Although if you do, I’d recommend you run the opposite direction!)

big book

And finally, you wanted to know if God, Jesus, and Mary know everything. I think it’s safe to say that God and Jesus do know everything. Your dad said that Mary must know everything, too, since she’s a woman. That is one theory, I suppose, but I think the only people who believe that theory are sarcastic men who have a twisted sense of humor. I have a different theory that is more widely accepted. I think Mary knew everything until Jesus was about 7. Then each year from age 8 to age 15, Mary lost knowledge incrementally. From age 16-21, Mary knew absolutely nothing. Each year after 21, Mary regained some of her knowledge. By the time Jesus died at the age of 33, Mary was getting pretty doggone smart again.

I hope I’ve helped you out a little. Keep asking your dad these questions. It’s a great way to keep him on his toes!

God bless you!

Jan

 

In Plain English

habla ingles

One of the common experiences for my beautiful Latino children is running into strangers who assume, because of their ethnicity, that they speak Spanish. (Yes, I know. I should make sure my children can speak the language of their native country and all. It’s just that I’ve been a little busy raising kids, keeping a household together, and working. The whole single parent thing, you know.) When strangers approach them speaking Spanish, they just look puzzled. Sometimes they will say, “I have no clue what you are saying!”

This afternoon my kids were playing in the front yard when three teenage girls rode by in a golf cart. The girls waved and said something to the kids in Spanish. My kids said nothing.They passed by again a few minutes later and did the same thing. Once again, my kids said nothing. On their third time by, one of the girls asked them if they spoke English. They said yes. I’m sure their tone of voice added “Duh!”

As they told me the story over supper tonight, they were trying to understand why everyone thinks they should be able to speak Spanish. Mia was particularly exasperated. “They should have known!” she said. “The second time they came by I was throwing the ball to Gus and I said his name in English! Do they not understand ‘Gus’ in plain English?!”

Gotta love it!

But It’s a Fact!

I was cooking breakfast Saturday morning when Gus came downstairs saying, “You’d be proud of me, Mom! Ever since I woke up about all I’ve been doing is reading my library books that we got yesterday, especially the dinosaur one. I’ve learned lots of facts.”

“Lots of facts? Well, good. Tell me one.”

He scrunched up his face, deep in thought, then said, “The first dinosaur bones were found by a Japanese pilot who was bombing Pearl Harbor.”

dinosaurs

What??!!

“How on earth did a pilot on a bombing mission find a dinosaur bone?” I asked.

“I guess he was taking a break.”

“Gus, the first dinosaur bone was not found by a Japanese pilot taking a break from bombing Pearl Harbor. I don’t know who found the first bone, but I know that isn’t what happened.”

“But it’s a fact!!”

I made him go upstairs to get his dinosaur book. When he came back to the kitchen with his Ultimate Dino-Pedia published by National Geographic, I asked him to find his facts and read them to me. It turns out that there were two of them.

1) “The first bones found of Spinosaurus were blown up in a German museum during World War II.” (p. 87)

2) Like the first fossils of Spinosaurus, the first bones found of Carcharodontosaurus were accidentally blown up by British bombers in World War II.” (p. 79)

Let me pause here to say that Gus has always seen the world through a very different lens from most of the rest of us. Part of that is probably due to his ADHD. Part of that is just Gus. His brain is always on fast forward. It reaches out and grabs details and facts as they go whizzing by, only there is no guarantee that the details and facts grabbed are anywhere closely related. Regardless, he takes what he has and pieces them together in ways that seem to make sense to him, but not necessarily to anyone else. Sometimes I work hard to try to recreate what bits of information he has gathered – from surrounding stimulus, from recent lessons at school, from his obsession with all things military and Star Wars, from whatever just played on the radio – to see if I can figure out how he comes to some of his conclusions.

For example, I am guessing that these are the details he grabbed when he was reading his book: “first bones found” plus “World War II” plus “bombers.” I happen to know that he is obsessed with Pearl Harbor. As far as his current thinking goes, Pearl Harbor pretty much is World War II. Pearl Harbor also means Japanese pilots. Thus, the first dinosaur bones were found by Japanese pilots bombing Pearl Harbor in World War II. And since you probably can’t find bones on the ground while flying a bomber, they must have found them while taking a break. I’m sure they were tired from all that bombing. So see? It makes perfect sense (in Gus-land), and that makes it a fact.

It is exhausting sometimes to try to follow my son’s reasoning in conversations. If I’m feeling energetic and curious, I treat it like going on a scavenger hunt. How many clues can I figure out? How many treasures can I find? If I’m tired, distracted, or if I’m trying to do other things while having the conversation, I’ll admit to tuning out and responding a lot with “Uh-huh” and “If you say so.” (No, I’m not up for the Mother of the Year Award. How did you guess?)

All of this is making me reconsider how all of us get our “facts” about the things we encounter. Goodness knows, the “facts” are flying all over the news media during this election season. Republicans line up on one side and swear that their “facts” are 100% true and infallible while Democrats line up on the other side swearing the opposite.

I watch in horror and fascination (kind of like rubbernecking at a bad accident on the highway) as the Republican candidates tear each other apart with “facts” about each other’s personal and political histories. They take little snippets from speeches made by their opponents in the past, then use them out of context to prove how horrible of a candidate that person is. “They said those things, really! You just heard it with your own ears. It’s a fact!” I look ahead to the day when there is just one candidate left standing and wonder how the party as a whole will re-spin those “facts” so that they are no longer so damaging that they derail their candidate in the Presidential election in November.

Sandra Fluke, a law student at Georgetown University, attempted to speak from a woman’s perspective about women’s reproductive rights before the House Oversight and Government Reform hearing on religious liberty and the birth control rule. Rush Limbaugh responded by calling her a slut and a prostitute. After all, if she wants birth control to be covered by insurance, then that must mean she wants to be paid to have sex. And if you are paid to have sex, that makes you a slut and a prostitute. That’s a fact, right?

What is a fact, anyway? When I was growing up, a fact was indisputable, provable, a common ground from which to work. Now the word is a joke. Facts have become words used to manipulate others into doing what, from your perspective, is the “right” thing. The candidates seeking the Republican nomination aren’t the least bit interested in the facts. They want votes and the power – at whatever cost. Rush Limbaugh isn’t the least bit interested in the facts of Sandra Fluke’s personal or professional life. He sees a strong, outspoken woman and wants to intimidate her and others like her into silence. Damn the facts. Give me what I want.

My son is processing the world in the best way he knows how. He isn’t being lazy or malicious in coming up with these outlandish-sounding “facts” about dinosaur bones and Japanese fighter pilots. At the moment those words came out of his mouth, he believed them to be true. They made sense to him. I explained to him what the sentences really said, and he grinned a little sheepishly and said, “Oh. I get it now.”

I wish that every case of “fact” abuse was this innocent – that no one was really being lazy or malicious when they misrepresent truth. I wish it could always be so easy to clear up misunderstood and misstated facts. I wish all it took was examining each other’s perspectives and seeking to understand what informs our thinking and our opinions. I wish that all of us could be better at grinning sheepishly and accepting correction when we’re wrong with an easy, “Oh. I get it now.” Unfortunately, that’s just not the case.

And that’s a fact.

fact

Looonnnnggggg Weekend

My children had a three day week at school this week. They only had a four day week last week, returning to school on Tuesday after their two week Christmas break. Next week will also be a four day week because of the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday. In other words, so soon after two weeks and a day out of school, they now have a five day weekend.

I love my kids. I enjoy my kids. Normally.

My son has had a sinus infection and a horrible cough. He took the last dose of antibiotics with breakfast this morning and then proceeded to cough nonstop for the next three hours. My youngest daughter is having yet another asthma flare-up, her third since the beginning of November. She requires breathing treatments with the nebulizer about every four hours – day and night. Her poor little eyes and nose are just a-running. She’s a pretty miserable little soul.

Last night a cold front blew in – loudly, gustily, and with a vengeance. The temperatures are about 20 degrees cooler today than they have been all week. The wind is still brisk. Days off from school should be days spent running through the neighborhood, playing for hours on end with friends. Unfortunately, Gus’ cough and Mia’s asthma do not need hours in the cool air and wind. Ugh.

Yesterday was day one of the five day weekend. Anna and I decided to divide and conquer. Mia spent the afternoon at home with her while Gus spent the afternoon at work with me. Today, day two, has been strictly an at-home day. I finally had to insist that the TV be turned off at least for awhile. I could almost hear those mush brains draining out of their little ears. Apparently Christmas toys have lost their luster. Creativity has disappeared. They both feel good enough to be bored but bad enough to be whiny.

Three. more. days. God help us all!

crazy lady

Creative Much?

reading dog

No, as much as it looks like it, the dog isn’t really reading.

This is Mia – my reader, writer, artist, and performer. Here she is singing the Blackbeard poem/song that she has to memorize for school. As soon as she finished this, she was making out order forms so she can sell her artwork. (I guess that makes her an entrepreneur as well.) Last night as we waited for our food at our favorite restaurant, she was hard at work writing a crime scene for a game she plays with her friends in after school care. It was a full page long and very detailed. She has a sign taped to her bedroom door that color codes what she is doing in there. More often than not, she’s marked “working” and is in there writing or drawing. She is a child after my heart. Now, if I could just learn to draw as well as she does. . .

Continuous Line

You find the most interesting people and things when you chase rabbit trails online. I recently discovered the artist, Kal Barteski, by following a link from one of the blogs I read. I love her stuff! (Not to mention her really cute dog named Frank!) Go to her blog – [i] LoveLife – to see for yourself.

I’ve been fascinated by some of her recent continuous line drawings like this one:

continuousline

All those trees and her signature are one line. I was showing this to the kids while we waited for our supper at the restaurant tonight. Each had to study it closely before believing it was all a continuous line. Then my youngest, Mia, who is by far the best artist in the family declared that she could do this too. She made a $1 bet with her big sister (who took the bait) and then went to work on a napkin.

This is Mia’s first attempt at a continuous line drawing. Notice her signature on the left-hand side.Not half bad, huh?

Mia continuousline

Guess who won $1 tonight?!

Monday’s Child: Back to School

It’s that time again! The kids will start back to school tomorrow. Mia will be a 3rd grader and Gus will be a 2nd grader. They both seem excited and ready for a new year. I know that I am about ready for a schedule again myself. As much as I’ve loved the freedom of summer and having a lot of time with them, I’m ready to have my office and my work hours back to myself for awhile!

I made a BIG decision last week. Because of the oddities of the old Bush-era No Child Left Behind, our very good neighborhood school was forced to offer school choice to all its student. DFE truly is a good school, but it’s held a few significant drawbacks for me and the kids. First, it’s huge. There are 800+ elementary students in the school. Remember, we moved here from a small community, so this was a shock to our systems. Second, while it is very close to our home, the school is a good 35+ minutes from my church (and many days much more than that when traffic snarls, which is too often for my taste). That means that the kids have to stay in after school care until almost 6:00 every day, which translates into less than three waking hours together at home during the school week. Finally, something about the school community is unwelcoming to newcomers. I’ve attended a number of PTA events at the school for the past two years. At every event, without fail, no one except for the kids’ teachers has ever spoken a word to me. Seriously. Not. a. word.

So when I researched our two new school choice options, I discovered that one of the options was attractive. It’s a smaller school – less than 450 students. It’s closer to the church – only a 15-20 minute drive. And when we toured the school we were overwhelmed with friendliness from everyone. From the principal, to the guidance counselor, to every teacher we met, to the front office staff, to the custodian – everyone was welcoming. All of these things outweigh for me the extra miles between the house and the school. After a lot of thought, a lot of prayer, and a number of phone calls/texts with my brother and his wife (who happens to be a superior educator), I made the decision to make the transfer.

A new school year. A new school. New opportunities. New friends. Exciting times!

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