Thursday, August 27, 2009

Herding Worms?

"What did you do all day?" When my life with four young children at home centered around diaper bags, strollers, johnny-jumpups, etc. my husband's question always made me stop and evaluate. I would look around at toys scattered around the living room and cheerios and sippy cups that lined the window sill.

What did I do? A lot of movement and activity occurred. It wasn't always in fast motion. We often were all headed in different directions. The best description that I could come up with was that I felt like I was herding worms.

My husband has been my greatest supporter in my role as a mom. Over the years "herding worms" has become our codeword for a chaotic day. These were days that ended with the knowledge that I had loved my kids, read to them and rocked them but beyond that not much else was accomplished. These days are just memories now but time offers perspective. As I look at my grown kids, I would have to conclude my "worm herding" days were very productive.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

The Photo Op

Baby dedications can be high stress. New outfits. Visiting relatives. Will the baby be awake, cry, or worse - have a blowout from either end while on stage?

My neighbors spend a great deal of time each year in Africa with a missions organization. The wife told me the story of a very different baby dedication. They recently led a group of Americans on a mission trip to work on an orphanage. The group was busy painting one morning when a new orphan arrived.

He wasn't really an orphan but his mother died in childbirth and the father knew he could not care for his new son so he brought him to the children's home. The administrator took down all of the information on the newborn. Her last question was, "Has he been dedicated?"

He had not. My friend explained that baby dedications were serious business in Africa. Every child is offered in dedication either to God or a pagan god. This little guy needed to be dedicated.

The volunteer workers from America were surprised when the orphanage administrator and her assistant called the group to put down their tools and paintbrushes and join them for the dedication -- right away. The group complied and gathered in the dining area in a circle.

My friend said that what she witnessed will forever be etched in her memory. The assistant was crippled and could only walk with a cane. With great effort she knelt, set the cane aside and lay prostrate on the floor. The administrator lifted the baby over her head and began to pray.

The Americans soon realized what an African baby dedication involved. This was no short ceremony or photo op. The two workers cried out to God for over 20 minutes. They beseeched the Lord of the Universe to protect the baby and guide the path that his life would take. They were quite thorough in their prayers.

I find this story touching. These sweet African women who have given their lives to serving the orphans understand something that I need to remember daily. There is a real enemy lurking about like a roaring lion seeking lives to snatch and destroy.

I treasure my babies' dedications and the pictures that I took at each one. They were like a rite of passage if not for my baby, for my husband and me as parents. But I am convicted by this story to become dedicated to covering my children in prayer daily. I need to have the spiritual eyes of these African sisters. There is so much at stake.

Your Nest Won't Always be Full

I wondered if I'd told my daughter everything she needed to know. I stood on the dorm steps and gave her one more last hug and kiss. I'd only had eighteen years with her and at that moment it didn't seem near long enough.

She pressed a letter into my hand and said, "Promise you won't read it until you get back to the hotel room."

Memories of a baby asleep in her crib, tea parties, piano recitals, and giggle-filled sleepovers cascaded through my mind. There must be a script or special recitation for moments like this. Instead, I just stood back and looked at her through my tears. I nodded, unable to talk even if I could think of anything to fill the empty space growing between us.

Back at the hotel room, I made coffee and settled down to read my daughter's farewell note.

It felt good that she appreciated all of the things I did as her mom. She had her memories, too. My daughter described special outings, family vacations and game nights. She was my drama queen and she recalled times that the two of us often stole away to live performances and productions in town. We could always talk, late into the night.

Her note ended with, "Thank you for giving me wings! Deuteronomy 32:11"

Grabbing my Bible I rustled through the pages.

Like an eagle that stirs up its nest,
That hovers over its young,
He spreads His wings and caught them,
He carried them on His pinions.

Laughing to myself, I understood her final message. I often told my daughter the story of the mother eagle.

Expecting young, the eagle prepares a down filled nest high in a rocky crag for protection. The eggs are laid and soon hatch. Early weeks find the mother eagle busy bringing food to her hatchlings. When the time is right the eagle begins to stir her nest.

She snatches the soft lining, leaving only sharp rocks and sticks beneath the eaglets. The wobbly babies hop to the edge of the nest, perching precariously. Mother eagle then does the unthinkable. She swoops down knocking one of the young to tumble down through the cavern. Untested in flight the eaglet struggles and begins to flap its wings. The mother eagle is not far away as she spreads her wings to swoop under her fledgling and catch him up for another trial flight.

The young eagle is soon flying. He finds his wings.

I knew my daughter would make it in college and in life. And I would, too. God would always be there to swoop under her and lift her back up. He was also the one who would go with me as I returned home to my empty nest.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Public Displays of Discipline

I was feeling pretty smug. I thought I had everything covered when I learned at the last minute that I had to take my two year old daughter with me to the eye doctor. I needed to be fitted with contacts and she really needed to be quiet and entertain herself.

Extra toys and little cardboard books went into the diaper bag. A small baggie of cheerios should help. I carried a miniature folding chair just her size. As an extra measure I put in.... THE WOODEN SPOON.

Now I didn't think I would need it but it's presence in the diaper bag would set that tone -- the one that said, "mind Mommy!"

It was going well. My daughter sat in the exam room in her own little chair. The doctor gave the eye exam and the nurse was teaching me how to care for the contact lenses. My back was to my little charge but I was aware that she was "reading" books and then rummaging through the diaper bag for toys and new books.

Suddenly we heard a loud whacking sound. We turned to see a tiny version of a hunched over ogre with drawn eyebrows and narrow beady eyes beating a table unmercifully with the wooden spoon. Now, my daughter had never even seen Star Wars, but her voice sounded just like Darth Vader as she growled, "Obey MOMMY!" And then an octave lower, "Obey MOMMY!" She then came out of her stage character and grinned impishly at us.

I chuckled uneasily. The nurse was not smiling.

"Where do these kids get this stuff?" I attempted to inject a little humor.

The nurse snapped my chart closed and informed me that my visit was done. I needed to come back without my daughter. She then proceeded to lecture on the long term effects of harm inflicted by Tupperware utensils.

I packed up the toys, the books, the diaper bag and the little chair and slunk from the office. I felt pretty small. I would never be able to explain that I didn't talk like Darth Vader when I corrected my daughter and I never beat her with Tupperware utensils. My image of a loving disciplinarian was probably shot for the day.

I realized that most people's reaction to corporal punishment is negative. The nurse immediately jumped to conclusions and my daughter's dramatic monologue didn't help.

I have a theory that most people have rarely seen discipline handled lovingly. They can't equate spanking with love. Therefore, they determine to talk their kids into good behavior with reasoning alone and without firm boundaries.

My daughter is now 24 and she thinks the story of her acting debut in the doctor's office is funny. She did not go into the theater as a career and you will be happy to know that she did not suffer any long term damage from cooking utensils. She regularly uses Tupperware in her kitchen. In fact, she plans to discipline her kids pretty much the same way she was disciplined - lovingly and firmly.

If you have questions, there are great books and resources out there on the subject of disciplining children with love.

My favorite books on the subject are:

Shepherding a Child's Heart, by Ted Tripp
Dare to Discipline, by Dr. James Dobson

A great online source is:

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Created Helpless

God blessed me the other morning with the scene of a colt scampering about a meadow. I had driven by earlier so I knew he was brand new.

How amazing that within hours a little colt has the ability to stand, wobble and set off at a run. How different for humans.

When handed my firstborn in the hospital I was awestruck. The excitement of relatives visiting to see her was fun but when my mom left and I was alone a bit of panic set in. My daughter was so helpless and the realization that I had to care for her every need was overwhelming. I wondered why on earth God made babies so dependent.

I grew frustrated when my husband would ask each evening, "What did you do today?"

What did I do? I sat and fed my daughter mostly. In those early weeks it seemed to be a never ending task -- around the clock. I felt stuck to the couch. I didn't feel that I was accomplishing anything. I just sat and held her and she ate and stared into my face.

There had to be a reason for God's design of newborn helplessness in humans.

Then I stumbled on a bit of science trivia. Did you know that infants have a pretty limited ability to focus? They can see about 15 -18 inches. That is the distance from your elbow to your face. As I experienced the unblinking stare of my daughter as she ate I began to realize that I was accomplishing something - by design.

So let the laundry sit and dishes stack for awhile. There are some tasks that cannot be rushed. My baby needed to be held and stare into my face.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Our First Baby was a Puppy

Our first baby was a sheltie puppy. He was photographed, walked and even slept in our room...until our first human baby was born. Shelby the sheltie was quickly out the door of our bedroom and into the laundry room. He was now a dog.

Our top concern was to protect "the baby" from the dog. Shelby had never been ignored so much or told NO so often. It was probably a pretty baffling time for the pup.

One evening when our new baby was a few weeks old my husband had her in the backyard. He took pity on the dog and began throwing a tennis ball for him to fetch. First he carefully placed the baby up on the picnic table in her little carrier seat.

After a few throws back and forth with the tennis ball the dog pulled a fast one. He ran toward my husband, dodged around him and was on top of the picnic table in a flash. He dropped that slobbery tennis ball right on the baby's belly. My husband panicked and then he heard a noise that he had never heard before --- our daughter's first laugh.

She peered up at Shelby's whiskered face and it was mutual love at first sight. Thus began a lifelong relationship that would last through teaparties, playing hair salon, and dress-up.

Did you know footie pajamas fit on a dog? We still aren't sure how our four year old got the pj's on the dog. If a dog could look sheepish, this one did. It just goes to show the depth of love that dog had for our daughter, even if she did upstage him in the very beginning.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Defend or Nurture

My little girls were delighted when their dad built them a swing set in the backyard. They "helped" him. They chattered all morning and all afternoon as he read and reread the instructions and assembled (and reassembled) their playset which came with an attached two story house.

Next door lived two little boys and their dad built them the same swingset from the same kit. They also helped their dad but with a lot less chatter. Their roof was a different color. That seemed to be the only difference and it was all we could see over the fence. These boys made a lot of noise once it was up. It sounded like all of the noises you would see printed on the old Batman movies - "Bam! - Powie!" There was always a lot of action and clanging of weapons - sounds of attacks and surrenders.

One day the boys climbed to the roof of their fort and peered down into our yard. Same swing set-different scene. My girls were quietly in the midst of a tea party on the front lawn of their playhouse. There were babies in cradles, babies in strollers and one in the swing. "Moms" were busy rocking, feeding and tending their little charges. Window boxes adorned the sides of the playhouse and curtains hung in the windows.

Same kit from the hardware store. In one yard it was a fort to be defended. In the other it was a home filled with baby dolls and nurturing.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Oldies & Goodies

What would make our two teenagers and our young adult daughter want to pile into the back of our sedan and go to Dairy Queen with us - their parents? Besides the promise of blizzards, it was the memories.

We have an old family tradition. It started when our fourth was born. It got crazy going out with two in high chairs plus two more wiggly kids. Instead, we piled into the minivan but we "ate in."

My husband would find the 50's music channel on the radio and we would pull into the old-fashioned hamburger drive-in where they still deliver the food while wearing roller skates. We didn't even have to get out of the car and everyone was together and happy.

Our kids were fascinated with the carhop's ability to balance food trays. I think they were secretly watching and waiting and hoping to see a big mess - one they didn't cause.

Tonight as we piled into the car we were a bit crowded. That minivan has become a gas conscious sedan and the kids' legs are all longer than ours. My husband found the 50's music on the radio and the kids started singing and remembering all of the many times in the past when we would have our oldies nights.

We drove to Dairy Queen but this time we went in. The kids were squished into one side of the booth, preferring that to one of them out in a chair. They were cutting up as I sat across from them, "treasuring" these memories in my heart.

In three weeks our second oldest will leave for her senior year of college and it has been a great summer - perhaps her last one at home. The years go by quickly and I am thankful for these family times.

When our kids are little and the floors are covered with toys and we are toting a diaper bag or two around it seems as if they can't grow up fast enough. But, they will grow up and all too quickly. It will be the fun memories that endure and the traditions you create that will draw you back together.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Planting Memories

How happy I was that spring afternoon when I took my 18-month old daughter outside and planted flowers in the front bed. God, children and gardening were all coming together for a special time.

I decided to throw in a little lesson on the importance of good soil and the evils of weeds and grubs. No time like early to start on those spiritual principles. And then there was water and fertilizer - I was sure I could find a spiritual tie in there. And who can forget sunshine - that was obvious -Sonshine.

I was so busy teaching that I was paying no attention to my little student. Finally I turned around and saw that she was staying right with me -following everything I was doing. As I put the flowers in, she was pulling them back out and lining them up on the sidewalk.


Tuesday, August 11, 2009

WANTED: A Friend

My three-year-old daughter was lonely when we moved across the country. She was very concerned about making friends. On the first day in town we went to the utility company to have service started in our rent house. She walked up to a total stranger on the street, a businessman in a suit. She tugged his coat and asked, "Would you be my friend?"

That friend-finding technique failed so she tried step two. She invented one.

The first time that I learned of the extra person in the house was one day as I made lunch. My daughter insisted that I assemble an extra peanut butter sandwich for her friend. This sandwich had to be on a plate and include a napkin and a cup of juice. I was amused until I sat down at the table and my daughter growled, "You're sitting on him!"

This routine went on for several weeks. I asked my daughter lots of questions about her friend because I found it amusing. The friend had a name, favorite color and of course would only talk to my daughter. (I would have been worried of course if he did talk to me.) He would often tell her that he wanted extra cookies and juice. Hmmm!

My mother-in-law sent a newspaper article that claimed that children with invisible friends usually were lonely and of high inteligience. Okay, lonely I bought but the second part I would hold onto as a future hope.

Perhaps the high inteligience would mean a high income in the future and she could cover my gym membership at some point. If she didn't give this friend up soon I was going to need help working off all of those extra pbj's I was eating after lunch.

I'm Listening

Mornings start the day - for better or for worse. I always found that a peaceful beginning at least gave hope for a smooth day.

I used to play scripture songs on our intercom. Each morning my children would wake up to the sound of God's Word. Okay, it was a big house and I was saving a trip upstairs to wake them all. I didn't really think that the youngest was understanding the Bible stories but I knew it couldn't hurt.

After a few weeks of these morning songs, my five year old son got down from the bar in the middle of his breakfast and walked over to the sink where I stood washing dishes. My back was to him but I heard the saddest voice, "Look Mommy, I am a man of unclean lips."

Glancing down I saw his impish face, mouth painted with grape jelly and purple fingers waving in the air.

Let the little children come to Me. Even a child can hear and understand God's word.


Every mom needs a break during her day. One particularly stressful afternoon I escaped. I went to the one place I could close the door and lock out the activity - I thought. I went to the bathroom.

Just as I sat, I heard laughter in the walls. Banging and knocking began under the sink and out tumbled my two youngest children, ages 2 and 5, in a jumble of giggles. They were playing apartment under the sink and they were pretty pleased to see my shocked face.

Lesson Learned: ALWAYS check under the sink BEFORE you use the bathroom.