Swingin’ in the Rain

Yesterday was a rough day.

After a week of steady rain, attitudes and annoyances all rubbed up tight against one another to form the perfect storm of insanity inside our home. From the moment the day began, the small people in our midst were clawing at one another’s throats.

You know how little baby tigers play with each other, tumbling around, nipping at one another’s ears and pawing at each other’s faces, and you wonder if they’re fighting or playing?

It was just like that here, but they were definitely fighting. 

Even Lee and I felt the stress of a long couple of days, griping at each other in frustration over silly little things. And so the day went with all of us tired and annoyed, and feeling a little trapped.

Not to be outdone, Annika got in on the insanity of the day. Somehow she managed to fall over backward on the hard tile floor four times. By the last tumble, I was exasperated as she wailed and screeched. I was ready to sell the house, and move into a home made of rubber and foam, in a place where it never ever rains, and children never argue, and you can eat all the Nutella you want without repercussion.

If I’m going to dream up a utopia, it’s going to involve Nutella. Amen? 

After dinner, the kids asked to watch a movie, and I was tempted to say yes. It would keep them quiet, and meant I could disengage almost completely. But somehow I knew that sitting in front of the TV was the wrong response. So did Lee.

“We’re going to the park,” he announced, and was immediately met with groans.

“But it’s raining. I don’t feel like it. I’m tired.” 

The list of complaints went on and on. We ignored them and ushered our little tigers out the door and into the grey outdoors.

There was a break in the weather, so I plopped Annika into the stroller and walked her the half mile to the park where Lee met us. As soon as we arrived it started raining again, and my frustration level hit a high note.

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WHY WITH ALL THE RAIN?!

All we wanted was a little free space to spread out – couldn’t God hold off the rain for thirty minutes so we could regroup? I expressed my frustration in a whispered prayer to the Lord.

And then I stopped. Because it was silly to feel frustrated over rain. I knew that it was. Besides, it was more of a steady mist, so why not make the most of it?

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While the boys hit the tennis ball through the misty air, the girls and I headed to the swings, and it was there that I found a glimmer of hope at the end of a long day.

As Annika moved back and forth through the weepy sky, her face lit up and giggles erupted. Tia laughed in return, blonde hair slowly growing damp as the rain cleansed us all of the anger that had followed us to the park.

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For twenty minutes, we played in the rain. Even the dog enjoyed herself, wandering freely off her leash in the field behind the playground. It was exactly what we needed, and isn’t it funny how water can do that? Cleanse and renew? It’s always that way, isn’t it? And so I was reminded:

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As we drove home, all damp and a little chilled, I found myself whispering a prayer of thanksgiving for our opportunity to play in the rain. It wasn’t the way I wanted it to happen, and it didn’t solve all the frustrations of the day.

But once I changed my perspective, I found that the rain was what we needed all along.

The goal now, of course, is to keep that attitude as it appears it’s not going to stop raining here in Florida for the foreseeable future.

Send a lifeboat. And Nutella. And maybe a little wine if you’re so inclined.

What I’m Reading (When I Have Time to Read)

I’m knee deep – nay, NECK DEEP – in all of the writing these days. Every spare moment is divvied up into sizable, manageable chunks, and there is little wiggle room for anything else.

Related: My house is a disaster, and the laundry threatens to eat me in my sleep.

Wendy and I are down to two months before we have to turn in our manuscript to the publisher, which seems like a long time, but feels so terribly short given all that still needs to be done. Every once in awhile, though, I’m able to sit back and assess where we are, and it’s good. First drafts of every chapter are written. Now we polish and refine and rewrite.

We will survive.

My novel is in the publisher’s hands, we’re finalizing the title (I can’t WAIT to share it with you), and I should be receiving sample covers soon. This is crazy exciting stuff!

But this also means that the need to begin a big marketing push is looming, and I’m overwhelmed. With all of it.

And then there’s the blogging. I miss blogging. I miss telling stories. Like how my children are slowly and systematically destroying the house this summer, one curtain rod, broken window screen, and shattered dish (or salt shaker) at a time. If it wasn’t so frustrating, I’d be impressed with their clumsiness.

But alas, there is little time to blog. I wake early and work. I get the baby down for a nap and work. Afternoons are for being with my kids, making sure they know I still love them (JUST STOP BREAKING MY STUFF). Then I put them to bed and I work.

I have managed to still carve out a bit of time to read, though. I’m a fiction girl, so diving into story is a necessity for my survival. I sneak reading in at night before I fall asleep. It soothes me, and it releases all the tension in my brain from a long day of walking the line between motherhood and writing.

So without further ado, I give you What I’m Reading

Photo courtesy of Tammy Labuda Photography

Photo courtesy of Tammy Labuda Photography

The following are books I’m either reading right now, or I’ve recently finished. I tend to have three or four books going at a time. It’s a sickness.

Big Little Lies: I am really enjoying this book. It’s breezy, and doesn’t require too much effort to read. The story is clever, the plot engaging, and it’s just quirky and humorous enough to keep me grinning. This is one I’ll get through quickly.

A Long Walk to Water: This was a quick read. I read it because Sloan needed to read it for school, so I thought I’d go through it first. It’s a great story, albeit a sad one. It’s been fun to watch him get into the book. In general, reading isn’t his favorite, but he’s enjoyed this book.

Schindler’s List: I bought a copy of this book when I went to Dachau. It’s actually quite good, but it’s heavy, and so I’m making my way through it slowly. Today, with the rain pouring outside, the sky all weepy and grey, is the perfect day for curling up with this excellently written book.

A Mountain of Crumbs: Elena Gorokhova might be my new favorite author. I finished her book, Russian Tattoo, in no time and I loved every bit of it. The book was engaging, funny, poignant, smart, and fascinating. A Mountain of Crumbs is actually a precursor to Russian Tattoo. I read them out of order. It doesn’t matter, though. That’s how good a writer Gorokhova is.

Russka: When I signed on with Kregel publications for my novel, the publisher recommended I pick up this book. He thought it would be something I enjoyed, and he was right. This book is a fascinating merging of history and fiction, spanning 1,800 years of Russian history and culture. This is one I really want to dive into when time frees up.

Books that are sitting on my shelf, waiting patiently to be read:

The Grace Effect: I really can’t wait to read this story of love and redemption from historian and Christian apologist Larry Taunton. He shares the lessons he learned through the adoption of his Ukrainian daughter, Sasha, when she was ten, and the false promises of an atheistic society.

Everything I Never Told You: I bought this one after reading Anne Vogel’s review in her Summer Reading Guide. I’m excited to dig in…when I have time.

Wild in the Hollow: Don’t you just love that title? That alone is the reason I bought this book. Reason number two lies in the fact that I’ve always loved Amber Haines writing. I’m looking forward to this book.

Making it Home: Emily Wierenga is a poet, her writing all clear and smooth like water trickling off the top of a mountain. I can’t wait for the release of her new memoir. In fact, I’m so excited about it that I’ll be hosting Emily here in the near future to share personally with all of you!

So those are a few of my current reads. Tell me some of yours!

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Choosing Confidence

In five weeks, I will reenter a world I didn’t think I belonged. I was part of this world once, and I never felt like I fit in. I felt like a failed citizen amongst a world of accomplishments. This world was, for me, a bit stormy, wrought with feelings of inadequacy.

This is the world of homeschool.

“No one can teach your children better than you.” It’s a common phrase used amongst homeschoolers and, quite frankly, I think it’s a total lie. Because there are a lot of people who can teach my children better than I can – namely, actual teachers who are trained to teach.

I bought into that lie the first time I attempted to homeschool, and I skidded to a painful stop at the end of the year, certain that I was a failure as both a teacher and a mother because the year had been so difficult. So, why on earth am I doing this again?

While I disagree wholeheartedly that no one else is equipped to teach my children better than I, what I do believe is that no one else on this earth knows and understands my children’s needs better than I do. This is something I can latch onto with full confidence. And it is for this reason that we’ve chosen to bring two of the children home again this year.

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I’ve also had time to reflect on the year that we homeschooled, and to see some of the fallacies in my plan. I didn’t really set myself up for success. We were new in town, and we had little to no community. This meant I was going it alone in foreign territory.

Never a good idea.

In addition, the move caused some strain in our marriage as we worked through shattered expectations, disappointments, and anxiety over our decision to settle our family in a new state. Those strains did not help in the schooling process.

Finally, I simply didn’t know what I was doing. I was so terrified of screwing the children up irreparably (which is laughable now that I look back on it, given the fact that they were only in preschool, kindergarten, and 2nd grade at the time), that I woke up daily with my stomach in knots over the whole process.

I never planned lessons in advance, but lived the entire year by the seat of my pants. And when it was all said and done I was certain I had destroyed them.

I’m a little wiser this time around. I have a better grasp on the process of schooling my children, on the expectations that I need to have of them, and yes – I absolutely know them better now than I did four years ago.

I know their struggles and their strengths. I know what makes them tick, and what doesn’t motivate them at all. I know where to put my energy, and where to let things slide.

Here’s the other thing – I know this is right.

My daughter is skilled in a sport that requires a lot of her time. It is in my power to give her every opportunity to succeed in her gifting while still excelling academically. My own insecurities can be put aside for her sake, because I believe in her ability to excel, and I believe in my ability to teach her.

It’s also important to me that we see her on a daily basis, and going to school while training competitively as a gymnast takes away too much from our family. So sacrifices are made, starting with me. I’m okay with that. It took me awhile to get there, but I really am okay with it now.

My son is extremely smart, and I believe it’s in my power to challenge him beyond what a traditional classroom can so that he reaches his full potential. I believe in my ability to do so.

I’ve set measures in place this time around to make sure I don’t burn out or get lost in insecurity. Lee will be helping with math, and for good reason. I opened Tia’s math book last week and almost threw up because I didn’t understand the first page.

So she will attend a co-op where a skilled math teacher will teach the concepts, and her dad will help with the weekly work. Because there are people more skilled at teaching her in these areas than I am!

I’m setting plans in advance for what we will accomplish when, and how long we’ll work each day. And I’m choosing to believe that I belong in this homeschooling world, even if it’s still a daunting place for me to tread. I’m entering back in confidently, because I believe that right now, this is where we’re supposed to be as a family.

I’m grateful that I can give my children, and myself, the option to be the very best they were meant to be, whether that be academically, athletically, or simply as a growing young person.

And as the teacher moving forward, I am choosing confidence.

On Katniss and Tris and Real Life Role Models

I steal glances at her every now and then. I have to stare when she’s not looking, when her guard is down completely and I can take in the whole of who she is – who she’s becoming.

She still has all the evidences of childhood, but they’re fading, and fast. Her face is lengthening, and the roundness has all but faded. Freckles dot her nose and cheeks thanks to the Florida sunshine, and her white blonde hair gives off the sunshiny aura of youth. It hasn’t faded yet, and I pray on occasion that it never does.

I also firmly advise her at every opportunity to never touch her hair with a box of dye.

It’s her expressions that get me. The thoughtfulness in her eyes when she stares off into space. The twinkle that glimmers when she gets tickled. The determination that crosses her face when she’s made up her mind to do something. These are the things that take me by surprise, reminding me that she’s growing up.

She’s still little enough that I’m cool, and I’ll hold on to that for as long as I can. But she’s also beginning to look outside her direct sphere of influence, and she’s observing how the world behaves. She’s looking for role models…and so am I.

I’m looking for the ones who will step before her and offer up an example of womanhood. Because I know there will be a need for those women to fill in the gaps where I am lacking until she’s old enough to, hopefully, appreciate me again. And it’s true that I want strong women to fill those gaps.

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As a fiction writer, it’s part of my job to see the trends of the marketplace, and to fall in line with those trends. And right now, the trend is strong female leads. 

We’re thirsty for evidence of strength. We want to see strong leadership, and the success of the underdog. It’s why Katniss Everdeen and Tris Prior find their footing in today’s culture. Because we want to see the female lead kick some butt. And as the mother of two daughters, I get it. I do.

I want my girls to have strong female role models, both fictional and real life. I’d rather Tia sit and watch girls rock it on American Ninja Warrior than another princess movie where a damsel in distress has to be rescued by her knight in shining armor.

And yet…

I’m also the mother of two boys, and I’m increasingly annoyed by the messages that society sends to our young men. Watch the Disney channel for any length of time, and you’ll see that the strong female lead has come at the detriment of the man. Most of the dads on any of today’s sitcoms are bumbling idiots. The brothers are incompetent nerds. And mom and sister save the day again.

It’s for this reason that I don’t give my kids lengthy amounts of time to spend engrossed in pop culture. As much as I love Katniss Everdeen and her butt-kicking skill with a bow and arrow, I don’t want cultural trends setting the example for my kids. And I don’t want my girls thinking that strength comes by beating the boys, nor do I want my boys to believe that they’re second fiddle to the smarter, more skilled girls.

Tia met one of the people she looks up to this week, and this is exactly the type of role model I want for my daughter.

Tia met one of the people she looks up to this week, and this is exactly the type of role model I want for my daughter.

I want real life role models. I want real people that my kids can look to and emulate. Men who are standing up for their families, who are strong leaders and decision makers. Men who respect women, who give freely, and who take their role as provider seriously.

Those are the men I want my boys to look up to.

And I want real life strong females for my girls. Women who are brave and kind, who love mercy, who walk humbly, who chase after education and respectability over fashion and fame. I want my girls to know that it’s okay to love beautiful things and to embrace their own outward beauty, but not to the detriment of their inner beauty.

I want my girls to be tough in the face of hardship, but also understand that the mark of a true leader is the ability to follow. I want my girls to respect men, and I want my boys to honor and esteem women above themselves.

Where do we find these role models?

We become them. We become these people to our own children, and to the youth that surround us. We befriend these types of people, and expose our children to true leadership.

And when we see healthy role models weaving their way into the culture that surrounds us, we point them out and we tell our kids why they should admire those people.

They work hard.

They’re kind.

They have virtue.

They’re brave.

They’re giving.

They’re strong.

Strength of character won’t be found in a fictional superhero type. It will be found in the every day man and the every day woman who walk in ordinary extraordinary ways. These are the role models we’re looking for.

These are the role models we want our children to someday become.

The Contract

He delicately unwrapped the package, eyes wide with hopeful anticipation. When  he reached the end of the wrapping, he found another color paper spun tightly around the treasure.

And another.

And another.

Until finally…

He thrust his hand up in the air, triumphant. “Yes! This is the best birthday of my life!”

He turned twelve and we gave him a phone. He has his own phone number, a case, and the capability to text emojis. Basically, we made his entire life in one short night.

It was never our intention to give him an iPhone. It felt frivolous to do such a thing. An iPhone at 12?!

I DIDN’T GET AN iPHONE UNTIL I TURNED 35.

But we had an upgrade, and we had this working phone, and it actually made more sense to give him an old phone than to purchase a new one. But we don’t take the responsibility that comes with owning an iPhone lightly, nor do we expect him to fully understand the power, both good and bad, of the much coveted device.

And so we sat him down at the table, and we slid a paper across to him. There was a copy for him, and a copy for us, and we all read it together.

phone contract

 

We read through the contract and talked with him about WHY. Why would we take the time to set these rules, and what were our expectations?

We made it clear that we’re giving him this phone because we trust him to have it. He’s twelve, and he’s old enough to begin handling more responsibility. But we would be foolish to just throw him a tiny computer without giving him some direction on how to use it.

After discussing the terms, and the agreed upon consequences if any term is broken, we all signed the bottom of the paper. This contract is active for one year. Next year, when he turns thirteen, we’ll reevaluate the contract with input from him. What worked? What no longer seems fair? We’ll give him a say, but we will have ultimate Veto Power.

Because we’re the parents.

My job as Sloan’s mom is to prepare him for the world, and the world he’s growing up in is a digital one. He has access to things I never did as a young kid, and a lot of that is good.

But there’s evil lurking in the wings.

Studies show that the percentage of young children being exposed, and becoming addicted, to pornography is on the rise. By age 18, it’s estimated that 93% of boys will have been exposed to pornography. And that’s a conservative estimate.

Between ages 12 and 13, 22% of boys are estimated to have been inadvertently exposed to pornography.

A smart phone in the hands of an adolescent is something to be watched carefully, because even if they aren’t looking for the danger, sometimes the danger finds them. An innocent YouTube video ends, and a graphic ones appears in the list. An ad pops up, which leads to a website and suddenly the a path is made available that can lead to devastating results.

There’s more than just danger to be wary of, though. We want our children to see that, although there’s benefit to having an electronic device, there’s much more benefit to living life in the present. Having a phone at arm’s reach is a temptation. Even I have to fight against constantly checking my phone.

It’s for this reason that we’ll wait another year before letting him jump into social media. There’s no reason to introduce the responsibility of a phone AND social media all at once. Because social media use will come with it’s own contract. Things like:

  • I will enjoy social media as a side pleasure. I will not live my entire life there.
  • I will never post something that could embarrass myself, my parents, my siblings, my friends, or anyone else I meet.
  • I will not get into arguments with strangers online. Life is too short.
  • I will be wise in how often I post, and what I post.

These are just a few of the things that we will be discussing with him over the next year as we prepare him for the responsibility of social media. But there’s no need to dive into those things now. Because for now, he still gets to be a kid, albeit a big kid. He still gets to enjoy the pleasure of real life, face to face interactions without having to learn the delicate art of online relationships.

This is a huge responsibility for us as parents, and it’s not something we should take lightly. We’re the first generation to deal with raising such digital kids. No one else has done this before us.

So we’ll do the best we can to wade into these waters with our kids, one step at a time.

What about you? How are you helping your young children navigate these waters of digital living?