Friday, January 27, 2012

I'm itching for a road trip.

Between the baby, the move, and financially preparing for me to quit my job, family vacationing has been off the table for the last couple years.  Granted, and my husband would be quick to point it out, we did travel with the kids each of the last two summers, to Arizona and to Wyoming, but both times it was on short notice for a memorial service.  We tried to make the most of the time off and family togetherness, but, in my mind, it really doesn’t qualify as a true “family vacation.”  We have thoroughly enjoyed a few weekend visits to neighboring cities, and I wouldn’t complain about Minneapolis, Chicago, or the Wisconsin Dells, but, again, these short, fun weekend trips were really more “getaways” than “vacations.”

Mostly, those occasions served to remind me how awesome it is to hit the open road with the whole family in tow.  I love those long carefree days of seeing new things together, listening to old school music on the radio, eating deviled ham sandwiches for lunch, and taking turns watching Star Wars movies in the back seat with the kids.  There’re KOA campgrounds calling my name, World’s Biggest Balls of stuff to be photographed and explored.  There’s national history to be learned in person, hotel pools to be cannonballed into, mountain paths to be hiked, and, I hope with all my heart, an ocean to be splashed in.  I don’t care whether we go east, west, or south; I just have that deep hankering to go.

It’s not entirely reasonable.  The baby’s still small.  The house isn’t unpacked or organized.  The summer is still months off.  It always costs more than you budget, someone inevitably spills, craps, or vomits in the back of the van.  At some point, your will to rough it breaks down and you spring for a two-room suite that gives you a locking door between yourselves and the kids.  Yes, I know all the limitations.  But the heart wants what the heart wants.  I long for a 2-4000 mile, 14-20 day adventure, together with my favorite people.  I think it’s road trips that make us American; it’s our patriotic duty to explore this vast and beautiful nation.  Are you buying this?  Because I really want to go.

You brought us here and gave us this land rich with milk and honey. Deuteronomy 26:9

Friday, January 20, 2012

Don't make me sing...

As they passed out the songbooks, the emcee announced, “We borrowed these from the Senior Center…”  That’s when we knew we had been bamboozled.
Although we might have felt some obligation to attend the church’s chili cook-off anyway, it was a stroke of genius when the committee chair asked my husband to judge, thus securing the whole family’s participation.  They said there would be a talent show after the meal.  Maybe not our first choice for a Saturday night, but we could sit back and enjoy the accordion playing and card tricks, we figured.

Then, as quick as you can say, “zipa-dee-doo-dah,” the evening was turned all around on us.  Before a single act had taken the stage, the gal at the piano banged out the intro and, despite my husband’s best effort to wave off the song books, we were swept up in a sing-a-long against our will.  The music segued from that deliriously wonderful day to the fairy godmother’s “bibbidi-bobbidi-boo.”  We felt none of the mythical Disney magic; we had hoped, like most talent shows, that audience participation would be limited to texting in our votes.

Admittedly, I could not help but laugh at my husband’s chagrin, and I sang louder and more expressively to add to his misery, but the real entertainment for me was in my mind.  I imagined all sorts of more entertaining alternatives to our current predicament.  Imagine if the pastor had come in dressed like Jiminy Cricket to sing Zipa-dee-doo-dah.  The only way to follow that up would be to have been for the choir director to throw on a tulle skirt and grab a wand for Bibbidi-bobbidi-boo.  Instead of the hard knot of anxiety we all felt in our core in seeing that Hakuna-matata was next in the book, we would have felt wild anticipation for which old friend was about to come out dressed like a wart hog.  It wouldn’t have mattered that most of us were off-key.  It wouldn’t even have required any talent.  It would have, most certainly, made for a memorable and entertaining program.

So, church event organizers, I just thought I would share this tip for the next big event.  If we can’t bring the talent, let’s bring the costumes.

Kenaniah the head Levite was in charge of the singing; that was his responsibility because he was skillful at it. 1 Chronicles 15:22

Friday, January 13, 2012

I felt guilty about the MP3 player.

My husband and I felt a huge wave of emotion when the girls opened their MP3 players this Christmas.  They were not the coveted iPod touches they had begged for since last Christmas.  Instead, they were affordable knock-offs that came in bright, personalized colors.  As we steeled ourselves for their disappointment, they floored us instead with their enthusiasm.  As they tore open the paper simultaneously and read the packaging, my oldest girl’s voice grew in volume and intensity as she saw and read aloud the all important phrase, “TOUCH SCREEN.”  We got the video camera out as quickly as possible to capture their unanticipated elation, but, as hilarious as it was, it still didn’t capture the overwhelming ecstasy of their first reaction.  We felt like Oprah on one of her Favorite Things episodes.

We outlined the attributes and limitations of the devices, because we did not want to mislead them about the reality that they were not iPods, but they were not disappointed in the least.  They, instead, were thrilled.  They immediately began snapping pictures and recording video.  They plugged in their ear buds to check out the music we had loaded for them, and our middle daughter took delight in looking through the library of photos we’d transferred for her.  They were the exact opposite of the kids in Jimmy Kimmel’s “I gave my kids a crappy present” montage.  My husband and I, with tears in our eyes, gave congratulatory glances to one another across the room.  Mission accomplished: an awesome Christmas gift that didn’t break the budget.  It felt like a real family accomplishment: our mad gift giving skills, the kids’ great and grateful attitudes; it all came together.
One of the great selling points (that we didn’t end up needing to sell, but still told them) was that these devices were affordable enough that the kids could be trusted with them.  Unlike high end devices, they could take their MiPods with them wherever they wanted.  This would be a test of their ability to be responsible with their own electronics.
Flash forward less than a week later.  My older daughter had her treasured touchscreen in the pocket of her hoodie, which she had slung across the couch cushion while we watched football.  I was crawling back to my accustomed spot in the back corner of the sectional, and proved that the weight of my body on top of my bony right knee was more than a knock-off touch screen MP3 player could handle.  At first, I didn’t comprehend her look of utter dismay, as she dug in the pockets of her jacket.  But when she pulled out the cracked device, and began to cry into my lap, it was all I could do to control my own emotions.  I tried to be parental and reproach her leaving something she valued so much in such a thoughtless place.  I reminded her that we had expressly told them of their responsibility to take care of the devices, and that putting them where they could be stepped or sat on was an explicit violation of that responsibility.  Through her tears, she determined to spend her own money to replace the defunct device, then continued to cry in my lap for another twenty minutes or so.  It was torture to sit by and let her mourn.
What my daughter doesn’t know is that after everyone was tucked in that night, I cried too.  In that one moment, I had gone from Oprah to the Grinch.  I could not believe that it was me!  I was the one who had broken my kid’s favorite gift.  I know it could have been anyone; after all, she left it hidden in a pocket on the couch.  But it was me.  I had disgraced our victory.  I had turned triumph to tragedy, in the world of a ten year old I love.
The next morning, when replacing her MiPod was her first and most emphatic thought of the day, I let her off the hook and told her I would split the price, because I wanted her to know how sorry I was for being the one who broke it.  I wasn’t sure if I should have done that or not.  But now that she has her new one, I don’t think it detracted from the lesson.  Both girls are taking care to keep them in cases and tuck them away when they aren’t using them.  And I’m going to be very careful where I step or sit.
We also bought the product replacement plan on the new one.  Duh.
I did feel bad at first, but I don't now. I know that the letter hurt you for a while. Now I am happy, but not because I hurt your feelings. It is because God used your hurt feelings to make you turn back to him, and none of you were harmed by us.When God makes you feel sorry enough to turn to him and be saved, you don't have anything to feel bad about. 2 Corinthians 7:8b-10a

Friday, January 6, 2012

My kid outclassed me (and I didn’t scrub the floors).

OK so, first of all, I didn’t go all Molly Maids on the old house after we moved out.  I figured the new owners were going to give it an overhaul to put their own smell on the place anyway, and, frankly, we had other priorities moving week.  The actual moving, three kids, Thanksgiving, out of town family, and a cancer diagnosis in my husband’s immediate family – to name the most obvious contenders for our attention.  But all excuses aside, we did leave the house without completing our regular housekeeping, so it was not the spotless showplace it had been a few weeks earlier.  Let me know if I’m wrong on this, but I’ve never known anyone who moved into a house or apartment and raved about the previous owner’s housekeeping; cleaning the new place is part of moving.  Or so I thought.

I expected the new people would find something to complain to the neighbors about, but what I didn’t expect was that my ten year old would be approached at school by the child of our former neighbor, in front of other kids, with a nasty accusation about our family’s filthy living – as reported to her parents by the buyers of our house.  As if they hadn’t gone through the house just a few weeks earlier and seen how clean it was when we weren’t in the middle of moving.  I was horrified when my daughter told me what the girl had said.  I couldn’t believe she wasn’t crying and wondered if she was being brave for us.  A well of defensive unpleasantness bubbled up in me, as I took a mental inventory of all the very judgmental and personal jabs I could take at them.  It was a challenging sale, and we had sometimes struggled to remain gracious.  All of those moments when we had to remind one another to be kind, to let things go, and to be generous rather than stingy, were suddenly overwhelmed by a vicious instinct to lash out and harm the people who had turned an adult financial transaction into neighborhood gossip and schoolyard bullying.

As I was about to surrender to my anger and injured pride, and arm my daughter with a slew of nasty responses she could use if it came up again, my husband saved the moment by asking her how she had responded.  She said matter-of-factly that she had told the girl, “Oh, so you must think moving is easy.  And then she told the other kids who were listening to the exchange, “What?  Did they live in a hotel before?  They can’t clean their own bathroom?”

I could have cried.  I felt so much admiration for her.  She did everything the school counselor says to do with bullies.  She stood up for herself; she disarmed them with humor.  She didn’t take it, but she didn’t escalate the situation either.  I could not have provided her with a better response than she came up with all on her own.  She was the tough but gracious person I wish I was – and she’s only ten years old.

I am embarrassed by the ugliness I felt about the situation and by the defensiveness I’m still battling.  I am tempted even now to give you all the reasons why I think we are nicer people than them.  I am just not as good or confident a person as my daughter is.  She is a class act.  And I have a lot to learn from her.

We work hard with our own hands to feed ourselves. When people insult us, we ask God to bless them. When people treat us badly, we accept it.  When people say bad things about us, we try to say something that will help them. But people still treat us like the world’s garbage—everyone’s trash. 1 Corinthians 4:12-13