steve & robert, my partners in parenting

Don’t tell my husband, but I spend much of my day with other men.

Two, to be precise. Steve in the early morning and Robert in the late afternoon.

As I sip the day’s first mug of tea or chop vegetables for dinner, their familiar voices float around me, winding from the radio, room to room. Reassuring voices, deep and gentle.

Sometimes serious, sometimes playful, their rises and falls intertwine with mine – sometimes laughing, sometimes lecturing. Toddler yells and baby screams always interrupt right when my interest in a news story is peaked, but I never worry. Steve and Robert will tell me again next hour.

They’re my faithful partners in parenting, from hectic Monday rush through slow-news Friday.

. . .

I grew up on a steady diet of NPR. Even after nearly two decades of eating vegetarian, the trumpet fanfare for “All Things Considered” still reminds me of onions and ground beef sauteing on the stove as my mother stood and stirred while she listened.

I remember guffawing with my dad to “Car Talk,” rolling my eyes at “Prairie Home Companion,” even complaining on endless road trips that couldn’t we please listen to ANYTHING else besides the news because that’s for ADULTS and it’s boring. (My youngest brother declared I was officially old once I started slipping, “I heard this interesting piece on NPR…” into conversation.)

But what I have come to cherish as an adult is not NPR’s solid reporting or even-tempered commentary. It’s faithful familiarity. NPR sounds exactly the same to my ears now as it did when I was ten years old. So much changes, technology rises and falls, the latest new fads come and go, but news-on-the-radio is stubbornly old-fashioned. Just the way I like it. 

That’s why I love Steve and Robert. They remind me that doing things the old-fashioned way – whether it’s diapers hanging on the line or vegetables from our backyard garden – is a good way to live. That I can draw more wisdom from my parents and grandparents than from the latest glossy magazine. That as life constantly changes, we need some things to stay the same.

The steady voices of Steve and Robert and Renee and Michele set the rhythm of my days in this season of life. They bring a perspective to my kid-dominated days that’s bigger than my kitchen table. They pull me outside my front door even when I’m at home. But if I’m honest, it’s not the news or the politics or the arts that I truly love. It’s the adult voices that accompany me through the days, the antidote to my work-at-home, mother-at-home loneliness.

That’s why I count them as partners in parenting, just like the friends we meet for playdates and faces we see at preschool drop-off. They’re part of the community, the wider world, the proverbial village, that’s helping me raise my kids. With a mindset that goes beyond mothering and a concern that goes beyond my children.

(If only Robert offered to change a few more diapers…)

why i’m sticking with my dumbphone

Not a week goes by that my spouse and I don’t get mocked for at least one of the following:

  1. having a land line
  2. not texting
  3. not having a smartphone

We have plenty of reasons for each. Our house gets terrible cell phone reception, so we need a land line to phone from home. Neither of us likes to text, so we’ve never signed up for a plan. And even though we’re years (yes, years) “overdue” for upgraded cell phones according to our contract, we don’t see the need to get shiny new gadgets while ours still work.

Old-fashioned? Maybe. (Though the New York Times says we’re not alone in clinging to our retro dumbphones.)

But the deeper truth? I can’t let myself get a smartphone.

Do I think they’re slick? Certainly. Handy? Definitely. But I refuse to bring one into this house. Despite my desire for an iPhone, I have to draw the line.

Because boundaries between work and family are already blurred when I work from home.

Because I already struggle with being present to my kids, given all the distractions around me.

Because when I see something like this, it hits a little too close to home:

I spent yesterday at a Social Phonics training in social media with emergent church leaders Tony Jones and Doug Pagitt. At the end of the day, they shared a final list of tips for diving into the social media world.

Get a smartphone flashed on their slick Powerpoint. “Is there anyone we still need to convince to get one of these?” Doug asked with a bemused smile, waving his phone in the air.

My hand floated up.

Both men turned with a look of surprise to the youngest person in the room. They launched into a litany of reasons to get a smartphone: it’s the future of the Internet, it’s the way people communicate today, it’s going to replace laptops in just a few years.

I listened to their logic. I smiled graciously. But all I could think about were my two boys.

They need me to look at them more, not my phone. They need me to listen to them more closely, not my email. And while I can’t be present to them 24/7, I want to show them the power of connecting by disconnecting.

Even though I struggle, it’s a spiritual practice for parenting that I want to cultivate: presence. When my day is already full of email and work, laptop and phone calls, I don’t want to add another constant distractor to the mix. Saying no to smartphones is my act of resistance.

I’m digging in my feet as long as I can, for them. While I embrace email, blogging and social media as ways to connect with people I love, I also have little people right in front of me who need to connect with me even more. I want to be present to them as best I can when they’re still so small.

So for now, this mama is sticking with a decidedly dumbphone. Which is why I never got your text.

(But you can always try our land line!)

if this blog were pinterest…

…here’s what would be on my Advent board.*

  • a beautiful and easy idea for a nightly family ritual of light to celebrate Advent with kids. Filed away in my memory for later years when candles do not pose an immediate and alluring fire hazard to the toddler set.
  • a moving film on “Change,” courtesy of the “Deacon’s Bench” blog, which promises you will never walk by the homeless man on the street without second-guessing your assumptions about where the change you give him might go.
  • an important reminder (and clever video) that while we are rushing around to finish our shopping, millions of people in this world need something much simpler for Christmas.

 

  • and finally, a ridiculous outtake of Stephen Colbert doing a liturgical dance to “The King of Glory.” Having watched this about 7 times, I can report that it keeps getting funnier.

* I am still not entirely sure I “get” Pinterest, despite being mildly obsessed with finding new kids’ crafts, home decorating ideas, and other projects I will surely never undertake. So for all of my Face.book friends who keep requesting to follow me, FYI – I have no idea what I’m doing.

But I do love me some Advent.

on babies, tv, and praying-as-we-ought

As soon as I read the headline, I grabbed the phone and called F at work.

“So do you feel vindicated now?” I asked, laughing.

‘Second-hand TV harmful to babies,’ the newspaper proclaimed. And all I could think of were the many football games we watched during the fall when S was an infant.

F was adamant that the baby not watch TV. So he would turn the child’s head, shield his face, or swoop him out of the room entirely if the action onscreen captured his attention. I would just laugh or roll my eyes – it wasn’t like we plopped the kid in front of the boob tube all day long, after all – but F was unwavering in his stance.

And now here was the high holy court of the American Academy of Pediatrics, coming down on the side of my paranoid spouse.

No TV, the experts insist. Not one minute for the under-two crowd. Not even a grown-up show in the background while the parent plays with the child. Even the slightest background exposure impacts babies’ sensitive, growing brains.

But what struck me most about the article was this line:

The new academy recommendation toughens up some of the most-ignored medical guidance in the nation.

An estimated 90% of parents let their kids younger than 2 watch television (an average of 1-2 hours daily), even though presumably a good number of them have heard the AAP’s strict prohibition. And at first I was alarmed by this: why are so many parents disregarding scientifically-backed advice? Why is it ok to ignore this guideline but not others?

But then I made a correlation. What person of faith doesn’t know that they’re supposed to pray? A lot. Every day. Without ceasing, even. And yet I’d be willing to bet that about the same amount of us – 90% or so – don’t. We may want to, we may try to. But life intervenes, we forget, we fail.

So what’s the solution? Do we berate parents for exposing their children’s impressionable minds to TV? Do we guilt people from the pulpit for not praying enough?

I don’t think so. I think you first have to ask why people do what they do.

As the article points out, parents let their babies and toddlers watch TV for a number of reasons. They need to keep them occupied while they make dinner. They think it’s educational. They want to make their children happy. They just need a few minutes of peace and quiet after a long and crazy day. Or they just don’t know it might be harmful.

Likewise, why don’t most of us devote more time to prayer? We’re tired. We’re distracted. We’re busy. We don’t feel think we know how. Or we just don’t think it’s that important.

I believe that, in most cases, you have to give people the benefit of the doubt. And then with respect and compassion, invite them to consider another way. Like all the things our kids can do instead of watching TV. Or simple steps to weave prayer into our daily lives.

People don’t need more guilt. And adults don’t need to be chastised. But we all need encouragement and gentle reminders, even to follow advice that we know is good for us.

And the one we claim to follow was pretty good at this himself, it seems.

parenting styles: are you a mac or a pc?

I’m a Mac girl. Converted in grad school by a bevy of Apple lovers (thank you, ladies), I’ve come to love the ease and style of my trusty MacBook. But I use a PC for work. Certain programs that I need, Mac doesn’t offer. And converting between the two systems can be a pain even for software that both support.

So many days I’m bouncing back and forth between two laptops: checking email and Face.book on the Mac in the morning, working in Vista and Office on the PC in the afternoon. Sometimes it feels a little schizophrenic, mixing up commands or forgetting how to translate between a one-click button and a two-button mouse. But even though my heart lies with Mac, I’ve come to appreciate both computers in their own quirky ways.

The PC is a faithful workhorse. I have a longer knowledge of PCs, having used them through high school and college. So I know more programs, more shortcuts, more tricks of the trade. I also know the infuriating sides of PCs: the bizarre error messages, the evil viruses, the heart-stopping crashes. PCs can drive me nuts, but they’re practical (and cheaper) for businesses and universities. So I know I’ll probably be working with PCs for the rest of my life, and I have to learn to love them.

Macs are more intuitive and creative. For someone who likes to jump in and try new things, I love that nearly every time I wonder, “How would I do this?” and make a stab in the dark, I’m able to do what I wanted. The design and layout of Macs – both hardware and software – is more attractive, and I’m not ashamed to love aesthetics. Photo and video editing is much more fun with Apple, and most of all, I love that I never have to worry about viruses. That said, it’s maddening that certain programs aren’t available for Mac. And certain Windows-based software is clumsy and frustrating when converted to Mac.

So I’ve concluded that for me, neither Mac nor PC is 100% perfect. I lean more towards one, certainly, but I know I’ll always have the other around as well.

In the short few years since I’ve become a mother, I’ve been exposed to many different parenting styles. Some parents are uber laid-back, others more rigid. Some follow the book (whatever The Book may be for them); others follow their gut. Whether overbearing or intuitive, clingy or creative, demanding or doting, passive or protective, most parents ultimately have their child’s best interests at heart. They just have their own views of how to best support their child, shape their upbringing, and show their love.

As the media’s been all a-Twitter the past few days about how Steve Jobs and Apple changed the world, I’ve been thinking about the Mac vs. PC debate. Since both systems continue to sell, it’s clear that we haven’t all been converted one way or the other. And some of us muddle along between both.

Perhaps parenting styles are like that, too. We have our own preferences and we make our own choices, but other choose differently. Hopefully we can keep our hearts and minds open enough to see why. It’s when we get dogmatic about our philosophies that we can become insufferable, criticizing or belittling others for not following our path.

The God whose very Being is plural and diverse – yea Trinity! – has created us in wonderful diversity. And more than a few times, I’ve been changed for the better in my own parenting by someone whose style or approach was very different from my own. They opened my eyes to see another way, another point of view. But perhaps I’ve also missed out on room for growth when I kept my heart closed, convinced I was in the right, and refused to consider why anyone would do differently than me.

I love my Mac. But you might not. And my husband the engineer certainly prefers his PC. If we all chose the same, we’d never appreciate the diversity of what each has to teach us. Here’s hoping we can keep an open heart – and a good sense of humor - about our differences, whether in PCs or parenting, MacBooks or mothering.

So what’s your parenting style – Mac or PC?

(I like to think I could be a cool, creative, intuitive Mac, but I know my system gets way too many error messages and crashes to not be a PC. Rare is the day that goes by without a Ctl+Alt+Del to restart my mothering.)

settling: maybe not such a dirty word after all

Walking the miles, singing the blues

Learning to love what God gives to you

 – Brandi Carlile, “Way To You”

Last night I took the dog out under a twilight of dramatic clouds. As I waited for him to sniff the entire row of pine trees in search of the perfect place to do his business, I turned back towards the house, now outlined with the last traces of the setting sun. For some reason it took my breath away as beautiful.

And I was suddenly struck with the realization that this was My Place, my chosen corner of the earth.

Lately I’ve been reading all sorts of interesting things about the information and sensory overload facing us in the digital age. We can’t read it all (“The Sad, Beautiful Fact That We’re Going To Miss Almost Everything”). We can’t do/see/learn it all, as this essay describes in respect to today’s generation of young adults, whom the author calls “possibility junkies”:

Its members have a spectacular hunger for life and more life. They want to study, travel, make friends, make more friends, read everything (superfast), take in all the movies, listen to every hot band, keep up with everyone they’ve ever known. And there’s something else, too, that distinguishes them: They live to multiply possibilities. They’re enemies of closure. For as much as they want to do and actually manage to do, they always strive to keep their options open, never to shut possibilities down before they have to.

Yet regardless of age, part of our challenge in discerning vocation means that we have to close certain doors. We cannot live there and here. We cannot marry him and him. We cannot work there and there. Life is shaped by limitations, carved by the choices we make.

Gazing up at the outline of my house against the summer sky last night, I realized that this is the first childhood home of my babies. This is where they take their first steps, speak their first words, learn to explore the world around them. This is not just a starter house or a pit stop on the way to somewhere better; this is a sacred space.

Many days my house drives me nuts. It’s too small. It’s not well-designed for a young family. It has too many things to fix. While I recognize that we are incredibly fortunate to have a roof over our heads, I still grumble about the not-quite-rightness of our house. I dream of the next house, the bigger house, the house with a real office for my work and a bedroom for each baby.

But this is the house I have today. This is the home I have been given. This is the life we are creating for ourselves.

Learning to love the life that God gives to you means celebrating this path, these choices, without indulging in too many daydreams of how it could have been different. And realizing that we are the sum of our choices, but we are also something more – something mysterious and unknowable, and that is the proof of God’s hand at work in our lives.

As I drifted off to sleep last night, I listened to the night noises, the house creaking into its foundations.  The sounds of its settling reminded me that I’m slowly doing the same.

And despite the connotations the word might have conjured up for me a decade ago – the shudder of resigned acceptance of something less than ideal – I begin to see that “settling in” does not have to equal “giving up.” Instead it means that I am settling in to the life God gives to me, which lets me put down roots and push up shoots.

There’s a beauty, a fruitfulness, a grace in that kind of settling.

parenting in a face.book age

Yesterday’s post got me thinking more about life in the Internet age. Then I read this great post from another mom reflecting along the same lines about why so many parents – especially mothers – are drawn to share (and over-share) in the online world and what effect this is having on our kids:

In the “life through a lens” modern phenomena, we can spend too much time “documenting” instead of living, “blogging” instead of being – and “presenting” instead of parenting. And we must ask ourselves: If every mile stone is yet another cute photo to share online, where is our true focus?

As I reflect on what it means to mother in the online era, it seems that some of the perennial issues of parenting – how to be present to my children, how to protect them from the evils of the world while still giving them the tools to navigate wisely – persist in the Face.book age. But new worries and concerns are added to them as well. There’s no road map given to new parents today; our own parents never worried about internet stalkers or inappropriate pictures surfacing online. Yet we have to forge ahead, doing the best we can in a constantly changing world of technology.

I see extremes around me: parents who post every itty bitty picture and milestone on Face.book, and others who forbid their kids to go online out of fear of the dangers they’ll encounter. Most of us muddle along somewhere in between. But no matter where we fall, these are a few of the questions I think we should ask ourselves about what it means to parent in a Face.book age:

Where are my boundaries?

The tendency to overshare is a big one. I strongly believe there is a deep and growing sense of loneliness today, as people get busier with the work/family shuffle and have less time for investing in real relationships. Connecting online seems easier and more efficient. And the more we share, the more our updates appear on our friends’ Face.book feed, the more we’ll feel connected, right?

As a result there can be little discernment about what’s appropriate to share or not share. When it comes to children, I wonder how many parents take the time to pause about whether or not they should post the bathtub shot of the baby online or the status update about the latest embarrassing story. The Internet has a long memory, and I wonder how many of these childhood moments may resurface to haunt our kids as teenagers or young adults – seeking employment, for example.

Beyond Face.book, I’m even more amazed by the photos and stories that people share about their children on blogs. I feel strongly that my children’s names and faces are to be protected from the strangers who could stumble onto this site. (The picture above may be the closest thing some of you have ever seen to S’s sweet face.) While I’m sure that 99.9% of you are lovely, trustworthy people, I still have to put my family’s privacy and protection above the desire to share their beautiful faces with you on a regular basis. I’m not saying that all bloggers should feel compelled to follow this lead, but I simply hope that parents can reflect on what healthy boundaries to draw between the sacredness of family life and the desire to be engaged in the world online.

How do I stay present to my children?

We all need release, escape, relaxation at the end of a long day of work and parenting. But too often – and I have fallen into this trap myself – our desire to connect online takes away from our precious face time with our children. Who among us hasn’t felt the child tugging at the pant leg while we check our email – just really quick, sweetie; Mama just has to send this one message - or heard the annoyed whine of a preschooler who wants his father to look at him instead of the Black.berry.

Yesterday our toddler class discussed listening skills for the under-3 crowd, and the teacher made the point that if we want to our children to learn to listen to us, we have to model how we listen to them – not half-heartedly, not mumbling the “mmm-hmm, sure, honey” while we multi-task. But really listening: with the cell phone set down and the laptop closed and the i.pod turned off.

Like most mothers today, I couldn’t function without multi-tasking. And working from home sometimes necessitates sending emails while S snacks, editing documents on the couch while he plays, checking on important updates throughout the day. But I try to be deliberate about taking moments where I consciously shut off the computer in front of him and turn to read the books, build the blocks, zoom the cars. I always want him to know he’s more important than the box with the keyboard.

Recently I was looking through some notes from a small group I led for a program we’re piloting in congregations to gather people for conversations around vocation, work and faith. One woman in my group said something striking during a tangent conversation about Face.book. She wondered aloud if before the age of constant communication, we could give more of ourselves to our vocations. We were more focused on the present and the people before us. Her words have haunted me; I hope she isn’t right, but I have a sneaking suspicion she might be.

How do I protect my children?

I have heard mothers say quite seriously, on more than one occasion, that they wish they could put their children in a bubble to protect them from the dangers lurking out there in the world. Helicopter parenting seems born of this instinct and the fears of living in a chaotic, often violent age.

But when I reflect on this from a spiritual standpoint, I’m very conscious that withdrawing from the world – protecting our kids from every hurt and disappointment and shock and mistake – is not what we are called to do as parents. I believe we are called to model wise, compassionate ways of living in the world, so that the next generation can learn to navigate the realities of what they will encounter on the road to maturity.

So I don’t want to put S or his sibling in a bubble. I want to help them learn to live well in our messy, broken, painful yet grace-filled world. Part of this certainly involves protecting them while they are young and vulnerable (hence my not sharing their pictures or personal information here), but part of this also involves modeling responsible behaviors for them as they grow.

This applies to the world of Face.book and technology as much as anywhere else. Do I worry that they will someday be bullied online or stumble across some wildly inappropriate website? Of course I do. But I believe I’m called to help them learn what it means to act responsibly online as in every other arena of life. So that starts with not burying my head in the sand and barring them from Face.book (or whatever the latest online trend will be) until they’re 18, despite my fears.

What do you think? What other questions do parents need to ask themselves about raising children in the Face.book age?

mothering spirit vs. mompetition

I prefer words to technology. But in the midst of a busy week of work meetings and a cross-country wedding, I haven’t had much time to write.

And yet, I simply had to figure out how to embed videos so that I could share these with you:

If you haven’t yet seen any of these darkly hilarious, dripping with sarcasm, monotone cartoon videos, then check out Xtranormal.com. (The “seminary” video is particularly hilarious. And depressingly true.)

When I first watched this pair of videos, on being a working mother and being a stay-at-home mother, I laughed so hard I practically cried. The creative genius behind the “Mompetition” videos has perfectly captured the mommy wars: the dark side of our parenting that causes us to gloat about some choices and guilt about others.

Regardless of where we work or how we raise our children, we use the Exact Same Words to share our stories. We are much more similar to each other than we realize.

As a mother who works mainly from home, I often feel caught between these worlds. Many of the friends with whom I can socialize during the day are stay-at-home moms. I know their world of doing laundry, making dinner, disciplining toddlers, keeping house. We share coffee while our kids share cheerios; we celebrate their latest accomplishments and complain about unequal divisions of housework between spouses.

Yet I am also a working mother. I have deadlines to meet, emails to respond to, phone calls to make, meetings to plan. When I get together with other mothers who work outside the home, we complain about the work-life balance, finding good child care, making time for ourselves. We juggle schedules and sippy cups, laptops and lunch boxes.

When I consider these varying worlds from a mothering spirit perspective, I’m reminded of the image of the Body of Christ. We are all part of one body, called to support each other and our diverse vocations. When we waste our time, energy, and words tearing each other down instead of seeking to build each other up, the entire body suffers. Parents need more, not less, help to do the challenging (and often thankless) work they are called and gifted to do.

As both mothers voice wistfully at the end of the videos, “I wish we could all just support one another through this journey, because in the end, we have the hardest job in the world.”

The mothers I know often wonder what our communities would look like – how our health, happiness, and well-being would improve – if we did just that. I wonder how our churches would look if we did the same…

“If one part suffers, all the parts suffer with it; if one part is honored, all the parts share its joy.” (1 Cor 12:26)

worth a thousand words

I’m a very visual person. I need to see in order to learn, to understand. Whether in art or in nature, I am drawn to the beauty captured by what the eye can see.

For that very reason, the recent wordiness of this blog is driving me a bit batty.

When I read online – from a blog or a news site – I find my vision blurring and my attention waning when a page is chock-full of text. I crave the variety and stimulation that photographs offer to break up a long string of paragraphs, to pause and regain one’s breath.

But simultaneously I have become increasingly wary of posting pictures of my child on the Internet. You can only read so many creepy news articles about predators or online identity theft before you want to pull the plug and run for the nearest hermitage. (Or maybe that’s just me? Ahem.)

Lately I’ve been contemplating how to proceed wisely as a mother in this World of Communication 2.0 (or is it 3.0 now?). I know that I cannot protect my child from all the evils of the world, but I want to be as cautious as I can. I cannot put him in a bubble, but I want to make his world as safe as possible while he is small.

I hear parents of school-age children agonize over whether – or rather, when – to allow their children to have their own Face.book pages. I listen to friends question whether they should post pictures of their babies online. I read gut-wrenching stories about cyber-bullying.

While I celebrate aspects of the Internet that have made us more connected and more informed, I also become increasingly wary about the constant reinvention of the way we communicate online and the lack of deep reflection on how this affects us as a culture and as individuals.

So what’s a mother to do? Do I pull all my photos of S off of Face.book, even though it’s the easiest and quickest way to share his delightful growth with our family and friends? I’m not sure; I’m giving it serious thought. I feel the need to reflect more deeply – read: theologically – on this question.

But for the time being, I think we can all agree that I’ve sprinkled far too many words on this page (and probably gotten far too serious in this musing as well). There is still room for visual delights, even if they aren’t the delights of one grinning, toddling S.

How about this hilarious juxtaposition of coffee mugs I noticed the other morning? On the left, a graduation gift from the school of theology I attended; on the right, a Christmas gift from my well-humored spouse.

The blending of my vocations meets me even in the choice of cups for my morning tea…You can’t make this stuff up.