We Are Their World

I was very young when I first became a mother. Little Charlie in all his vulnerability wrapped his little fingers around my heart, and I have never looked back to what life would have been without him or any of my six children.

There are so many happy joyful memories of being a mother. So many times of laughter and fun. But the true bonds of mother and child are developed in the difficult times, the worrisome times, when you are awake in the night feeling a feverish little body, and that grip of fear on your heart reminds you of how dear that child is to you.

My second son had severe asthma from six months onward. He was hospitalized over 30 times between six months and age 6, both in ER visits and usually for 2 to 3 day stays. He was allergic to almost everything environmentally, which made it especially difficult to get his wheezing under control. Every cold he had resulted in bronchospasms that would mean him having to be treated with IV steroids and various other drugs that were the latest in treatment to open his airways. He spent days on end on 7 North and 7 South, the asthma wards at that time. We knew all the nurses, and we watched the seasons change there.

There are so many memories of holding him hooked up to the various monitors, worrying and praying for him, trying to keep his time there positive and happy.  He still remembers me bringing the red and white striped bags from the gift shop with a small surprise for him each time. It was a tradition for us. He remembers the bins of toys I’d bring in from the play room and getting to watch children’s TV, something he usually didn’t get to do at home.

Sam is a husband and father of three children himself now. Nearly 30 years old. But he told me that he has no negative memories from those hospitalizations, despite the papoose boards used to restrain him for IV’s, the endless breathing treatments, and horrible tasting medicines and misery. To me, that said so much about children and mothering. He remembers the love and care, and me nearby, always nearby trying to sleep on the small couch, because I couldn’t leave him alone at night in case he felt scared and needed me.

I had to leave the hospital once for several hours to go home and take care of some things. I was gone longer than intended, and getting off the elevator that evening, I saw a nurse pulling Sammy in a small wagon down the hall. His look was one of utter dejection. He was slumped in the wagon, looking sad. As the wagon approached the nurses station, he looked up to see me. I’ll never forget the look of sheer joy in his eyes. His arms flew up for me to hug him. Mom was back. His world was OK again.

I remember that all these years later, because it showed me how important moms are to their children. We are their world. Our choices and decisions have a direct impact on their well-being and happiness. It’s a sobering thing.

So many mothers struggle, and I understand that with all my heart. I was a single parent at the time with a world of burdens on my shoulders.  Those mothers who have no support and help or who are dealing with counter-parents rather than co-parents carry unbelievable loads.  Those who continue to love their children, day in and day out, and who try to give their children the best they can in spite of circumstances are true heroes. I think of these moms on Mother’s Day.

My adult son told me something recently that I’ll always carry with me. He said, “I always remember the feeling of being safe with you, Mom.” Isn’t that what we strive for? That , come what may, in this broken and often bleak world, our children have a safe refuge with us. No matter the housing, the financial situation, or any other negative in their lives, they are safe with Mom–a mother who believes them, protects them, cherishes them to the best of her ability.  Creating that safe zone is the work of all mothers. If our children remember that, we have done our jobs well.

Oh, the Books!

I still remember the scent when I opened the door to the children’s section at the library as a child. I say scent, because the collective smell of the books was beautiful to me. It evoked a sense of excitement—far off places, beloved characters in stories, biographies of interesting people, and so much more. I  remember the color of the green tile floors at old Finney, and to this day, if it were still there, I could tell you where my favorite authors were. That was my first library, and it has pride of place in my memory.

In fifth grade, I developed an obsession with the Presidency of John F. Kennedy. I think I read every book on the subject at Finney, even making my way to the adult section when the limited number ran out in the children’s. I could have told you a great deal about the man, the President and his assassination, in detail, at the time.  (My mother’s copy of, Death of a President is what got me started!)

My second library was the Wauwatosa Public Library, a beautiful place long before the redesign and building project in the late 1980’s. The children’s section was (and the new one still is) huge compared to Finney. When I first saw it, I felt like I had entered a book lover’s paradise. I carried home stacks of books every week. It was a  world of enchantment and fascination in my arms.  I learned so much about the world from books.  Much more than just sitting in classrooms.

It has been a joy to watch the love affair with the library continue in some of my own children. Some, not all. But our youngest, Emily, loves to read, and already has her favorite authors at the library. I offer up suggestions as we walk through. Some she likes, some she does not. I think some of the books haven’t caught her imagination yet, because she isn’t old enough for some of them. Some books, I don’t recommend to her. There is a great deal of paranormal, bizarre and unacceptable material in the library, especially now. Parents have to be the filter for children. Just as we guard our children from toxins of various kinds physically, we guard our kids from toxic materials for their minds and souls. If it isn’t honest, if it isn’t true and tells lies about the world and parents, etc., if it doesn’t celebrate the good, than it isn’t welcome.

A lot of the children’s authors I loved are no longer found, sadly. New authors come up and the old classics we knew and loved disappear. I looked in vain today for a couple of authors I remembered, but they were not there. I bought up an entire series online of used girls’ books, the Beanie Malone series, that I loved so much. They were written in the 50’s, but I enjoyed them in the 70’s and 80’s. Girls today would not find them interesting at all maybe, but I loved the whole Malone family as the stories followed the motherless family through adulthood. There were a lot of fantastic values conveyed with the hard-working Malones. The author had a real gift for conveying common moral dilemmas and misadventures of American kids in a family. Great lessons were learned by reading the books.

Today, I snapped a photo of Emily who was waiting for me to find my own books. I ended up with a few Dorothy Sayers’ Lord Peter Wimsey mysteries and a 2016 release called, The Word Detective: Searching for the Meaning of It All at the Oxford English Dictionary. It’s a memoir by John Simpson, and if you think that’s boring, you’re very wrong. I’m already sucked into it.

The digital age has much to recommend it as far as communication and knowledge. But the thought of books, the kind you can hold in your hands and put on shelves, disappearing is a terrible thing. Emily has not yet been allowed into the digital world yet. She’s busy getting an appreciation for words on the page without digital distraction. It’s my strong view that children need to achieve an attention span and not have their brains rewired before they’ve even fully developed.

Emily and I have a  read aloud time. She sits in her smaller rocker next to mine and we read a chapter from our current book. It’s a special time for us, beyond just the reading of a story. She also has learned to love audio books on CD for when I can’t read to her. When summer days get long, those give her something fun to do to keep her mind and imagination busy.

There are no guarantees your children will love what you love. But as a parent, you can just set the table, so to speak, and let them sample good things that you lay out. Hopefully, the taste for good books will catch on! It looks like Emily is on her way.

Savor Them Now

The photo below was posted at a Texas daycare. Parents were too busy on their phones to look into the faces of their dear children who had waited all day for the moment they would have a parent back. Imagine being that child, so proud of your handiwork, waiting to show Mama or Daddy what you’ve made, only to find that they don’t care enough to get off their phones. It brings me to tears.

If such a thing were possible, I wish I could have one day with each of my six children back when they were small. I can remember the feel of each their skin, the bath times, the bed time stories, the meal time fun we had, the times they were sick and I was worried, the hugs and tuck-in rituals, the kisses on their chubby faces. I love each of them more than words can say, and I always will.

Advice from older generations to the younger is not generally received well anymore. Young people don’t want to hear it. The terms “Grandma”and “Grandpa” are used as an insult online frequently to dismiss something an older person has to say. But here is what I would tell a young mom if I could. You have absolutely no idea the speed with which time flies. You hear it often, because it is true. That baby who wakes you up every two hours is a toddler by the end of their first year. Walking. Away from you. Do not resent your children’s impositions on your time. The echo of their small voices in your mind will soon be all you have, and regrets are terrible to live with.

I have to remind myself of these things every day. We have a young child, and some days, I think (as I once did when I was a young mom), I can’t wait until this child can do this herself. But what is different is that now I stop myself from that line of thinking. She will be eight years old this summer. EIGHT. How did that happen? The little girl times will come to an end so very soon that it chokes me up.

At night, I lie awake thinking of her asleep in her bed with the Hello Kitty sheets and her dolls and stuffed animals nearby, and a kind of panic hits me. Was there something else I should have done—should be doing with her? Have I enjoyed and savored this phase enough? She doesn’t know that some nights I get up to kiss her while she’s sleeping. Because she’s growing so fast, and like her siblings, she will be gone before we know it.

Moms (and Dads), whatever else you have to let go, don’t let it be loving and spending time with your little people (or kids whatever their age.) Emmy asked me to play with her the other day, and I was in the middle of something. I wish I had put it down. I promised to make some muffins with her the other day, and we never did. Muffin making is on the agenda after school today. She will be thrilled.

Don’t rush your children to the next developmental phase. Their “littleness” is precious, and they’ll get to the next milestone before you know it. Those soft little hands will soon stop reaching for yours, because they’ll be too big. Something to remember.

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“Do You Think He’s Seen Jesus Over There?”

The last seven years of raising another little girl has had its challenges and joys, emphasis on joys. Being the mother of a young child is always fascinating and rich with insights. There is a reason that Jesus said we must become like little children if we desire to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Their faith and trust, lack of cynicism and self-righteousness are what He was talking about.

There are many spiritual lessons to be found almost daily with a young child.  Some stick out in my mind. I remember a moment when Emily was four years old. On Christmas Eve we were talking about the Advent (coming) of our LORD in Bethlehem so long ago. I said to her, “Tonight is the night we remember Jesus coming to us.”

Her face lit up, eyes like two stars. She ran to the front  door and began jumping up and down and shouting.

“Jesus is coming here? When, Mama, when?” She thought He was coming to our door. Literally. In person. That night.

The joy and expectation on her face moved me deeply. The faith of a child, delighted she would meet  her Jesus. No doubt in her mind. Just faith and belief in the goodness of our Savior.

At age seven, she is on that borderline between knowing facts and still having the innocence of young childhood.  The line is frequently blurred. Last night I had an article up about Israel and there was a photo of the Prime Minister prominently displayed.

“Who is that?” she asked, walking up behind my chair.

“Benjamin Netanyahu, the Prime Minister of Israel,” I told her.

“Israel? Wow.” She thought about that for a moment. “Benjamin was one of the  names of Jacob’s sons. We learned that in school”

Another pause.

Then her eyes lit up. “Do you think that man has gotten to see Jesus over there?”

I reminded her that Jesus walked the earth 2,000 years ago.

Her face clouded. “No, Mr. Benjamin isn’t that old, I guess.”

Lots of laugh out loud moments with children, and also moments that cause tears to come to your eyes.

“Do you think he’s gotten to see Jesus over there?”

A wistful and hopeful question. Maybe he has seen my Jesus.

For now, we see Jesus by faith. Hebrews 11. Some day we will see him face to face. The hands that were scarred for us. The One who loved us so much He took our place and the penalty for sin.

What a day that will be, Emily., when you can run to the One you love, who saved you by His grace. That is the blessed hope that keeps us as Christians going in this dark world.  That is how we continue on when the rebellion and sin around us gets worse and worse.

There’ll be no sorrow there,
No more burdens to bear,
No more sickness, no pain,
No more parting over there;
And forever I will be,
With the One who died for me,
What a day, glorious day that will be.
What a day that will be,
When my Jesus I shall see,
And I look upon His face,
The One who saved me by His grace;
When He takes me by the hand,
And leads me through the Promised Land,
What a day, glorious day that will be.

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Stopping Abuse (From Kids) in the Home

A mother anonymously went public online seeking help regarding a rebellious daughter. She and her husband were heartbroken that the daughter they had lovingly raised had entered adolescence and had turned into a foul-mouthed, rebellious young adult. The girl rejected any requirements for change by her parents and had created a living hell in the home. The distraught mother sought advice from readers of the site about what to do to “improve her relationship” with the girl. Advice ranged from “Tell her her tattoos and body piercings look nice and don’t judge!” to “Don’t argue with her at all. Let her do what she wants, so she doesn’t see you as authoritarian.” One commenter said, “Rules create rebels.” That’s the thinking out there.

As a mother who has had five teens thus far (all of the five are adults now), my husband and I have certainly seen our fair share of what it is to parent adolescents and the challenges it presents. What I want to address in this post is not run of the mill boundary pushing, attempted (emphasis on attempted) disrespect or occasional disobedience to parents. There is hardly one of us in existence that has not tried this growing up.  What I’m talking about here are the extreme cases where a home is literally being destroyed by a young person who is at war with authority and is engaging in abusive conduct towards his or her parents.

When Tom and I were first married 21 years ago, friends of ours were going through this with a high school aged child. We would hear them describe what the daughter, raised in a Christian home with love, was doing (things like stealing from her own grandmother’s checking account, leaving school to have sex with her fast food manager, etc.), hear about the scenes she was creating in front of the other kids in the home, and we would wonder, how can they let this go on indefinitely? What is being accomplished here other than destroying the home for the other kids and destroying their own mental and physical health?

Getting back to the anonymous account from the devastated mother I referenced at the start of this post, she said her daughter was screaming at her husband and her, using the ugliest profanity, reserving the ugliest for her own mother, hurling f-bombs and then slamming the door (of the home they paid for), breaking things in her room, saying she hated them, and so forth and so on.

I will get to the point. Allowing any resident of your home, minor or otherwise, to behave in this fashion and keep residency, is to do the following: A) Send the message that abusive speech and behavior towards you is OK B) Train other children in the home that this is how conflict and disagreement is handled and how parents can be treated C) Demonstrate that your home can be turned into a war zone by anyone who so chooses D) Signal that you are not a full human being with boundaries that must be respected.

I have seen enough of the “unconditional love” of modern parenting, Christian or otherwise, to see that the current interpretation is a disaster. I believe in unconditional love, but not if it means that you and/or your spouse willingly serve as a doormat, punching bag, and a slum landlord who must accept anything and everything your tenant (that’s what an angry rebel becomes) dishes out. You also become an enabler of domestic abuse. Yes, abuse.

These young people are abusive. When this is a lifestyle pattern that harms others, it’s not “hormones”, “typical adolescent angst”, or anything else. It’s abuse. Nobody in my home will call me filthy names, accuse me with lies, and use profanity and anger in my presence. Nobody. My home, our home, is a haven from the rest of the world that has gone morally insane. This is our refuge of peace, and we will have peace. Tom and I are in complete agreement and always have been (spousal agreement on these things is crucial) about these issues. We did not allow any one of our kids to turn our home into a hell hole of rage and anger. When a child is at war with the parents, it’s time to seek alternative living arrangements for the rebel. There’s a time to work and pray with a child. There is also a time to acknowledge that their problems are doing gross harm to others.

Parents need to enter parenting having these thing straight in their minds. Our warped culture, as I pointed out earlier, thinks that having foul-mouthed, abusive teens who spit on the parents who have raised them, loved them and provided everything they have, is normal. It may be normal in America, but it should not be.

Some of the horrific headlines of parental abuse and even murder are an outgrowth of the kind of parenting we have today where parents try to be friends, shower kids with stuff instead of inculcating values, while kids morally rot in front of their eyes. Then these sociopaths and psychopaths turn on parents when they (in desperation) take technology away or make some 11th hour attempt to regain control they lost long ago.

There are some parents who have parented with love and discipline, however, and the spirit of the age takes hold in the heart of a child anyway. It is all the more devastating when you have invested your heart and soul into the life of a child only to see them wander away from truth and love. Having seen this as a parent, it can be devastating and inexplicable. That’s because we sometimes see parenting as a formula that, if adhered to, will provide certain results. That line of thinking, common among conservative Christians, is also incorrect. Sometimes kids reject what they are taught outright. They are not machines that you can program. Down the road, living in the rubble of their own bad decision making, sometimes they return to the light and to the truth.  I have seen this. Sadly, some do not. Those things are not in our hands. It’s our job to love and teach them what is right and true. What they do with that is firmly their own choice.

So what is in our hands? That is the point of the post. We must, emphasis on must, not allow any one child to destroy our homes with their sinful warfare. Love must be tough, and sometimes that means finding a residential option that removes a minor child from the home they so despise. It can be the only hope they have of seeing that their willful rebellion and abuse of others has long-term consequences. When you have a young adult living in your home who is showing complete and ongoing disrespect, the answer is obvious. Stop enabling it. Lay down the expectations of the rules of the home for young people early on, and let them know that they have one warning, after which, they will face the consequences.  Write it up as a contract so things are perfectly clear. Stick to it. Failure to do this will result in you making a mockery of your own boundaries, authority and your requirement of personal respect.

Tom and I have lived through these things through the years. When I see Christian parents in total dismay at young adult rebels wanting to sit around gaming or refusing to do the most basic chores, expecting to enjoy the fruit of their parents’ hard work while contributing nothing but mouthiness and disrespect, it’s evident where the problem lies. You get the respect you expect. It’s that simple.

I saw a teen comment on the same post online written by the dismayed mother. The teen wrote, “Parents treat us with disrespect and think we’ll respect them back.” This is the attitude I am talking about. It is the job of the parent so say, “You have clearly rejected us as parents and are most unhappy with the job we have done. We respect your right to hold an opinion. Now you can view us as landlords instead. All landlords have expectations and rules for tenants. Here are ours if you expect to stay in this home and also listed are the consequences if you decide to do things your way. Then be ready to calmly enforce it. Dispassionate, calm enforcement of the rules, and a refusal to be drawn into emotional screaming matches is essential. Letting them push your buttons puts them in control, not you.

Cause and effect. Teaching that to young people is critical. Teaching respect for others is crucial. Start early and reinforce boundaries, something that modern parents-as-friends fail to do, beginning in early childhood.

Parents are people, too. We sacrifice the best years of our lives when we have children, pouring our time, energy and resources into our kids, because we love them. Don’t send the fatal message that they can turn around and spit on you. That is the wrong message.

Addendum: To those who say this is not parenting with grace and forgiveness, understand this: Repentance is turning around. When a son or daughter is truly sorry for their behavior and treatment of parents, it will be evident by conduct, not just verbal promises. If you hastily restore fellowship with someone in your home who has been abusive as described above, you only destabilize your home and invite further chaos. We are called to forgive seventy times seven as Christians.  We are not called to lightly re-expose ourselves to health-threatening stress and abusive conduct from someone who may be manipulating to re-enter the home. This is true of any abuser, whoever they are. Forgiveness is not the same as renewed fellowship. That can only come where there is ample fruit of real heart change. Remember that.

Remember something else. When dealing with a full scale rebel who has turned your home into a war zone, be prepared for ignorant and hurtful judgements from others, some even within your own family or extended family. When you decide to be proactive and find an alternative living situation for the child/young adult, you will be accused of various and sundry parenting failures. “It must be something in their home. They are too (fill in the blank with accusation here.)” To parents already in pain, this can be doubly hurtful. I urge parents in this situation to refuse to discuss the situation with anyone placing themselves in a seat of judgment. Only you as parents know what has gone on and what drove you to an extreme decision. The response to such judges should be, “That is not your call to make. We are not interested in discussing it with you for privacy reasons. ” If they persist, cutting off contact with busybodies not showing respect for your own experience and decision making is the only wise course of action. Those who judge without the facts serve to further divide and injure you emotionally, something you don’t need at a time like this.