The Little Professionals

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Wrote this a year ago. Needs to be said again. 

Well it’s here again. I’m actually knee-deep in it. It’s ball season.

This is the time of the year when my sanity is really challenged. With a daughter in softball and a son in baseball, my calendar looks more like a game show challenge than commitments made by responsible adults. Added to this, the reward my husband gets for volunteering his time as a baseball coach is the mandate to umpire 9 additional games to the 18 that his team will be playing. Needless to say, just about every night is busy.

Often, we are double-booked and I go one way with Zaidee while Matt and Haydn zoom off to their game. When it works out that we can all go to the games, Matt is an assistant coach for Zaidee’s team as well. This can cause some stress, as we don’t have much time together. I’m still trying to pull off a healthy family dinner each evening, but this has to be a creative endeavor. We may eat at 4:30 in a rush, or I’m packing wraps for us to have picnic style on the field. The table talk has suffered for sure.

Keeping up with regular life during this season is a bit of a challenge as well. One thing that I particularly struggle with is hospitality. As the weather is warming up, our list grows of people we’d like to have over for a cook-out or evening around the fire pit. But we can barely get the grass mowed. And then there’s the spring planting, mulching, and gardening that we used to love to do together. Now we find ourselves outside working in the rain because it’s the only free time we have.

I struggle terribly with my attitude this time of year. Watching my kids play is awesome. I get into the games just like everyone else, and get to know some new parents each year. Matt and I are active people and love the benefits a sports team provides: discipline, fitness, team work, conflict resolution, handling failure and success, encouragement, excelling at something you’re good at, improvement from hard work, dealing with difficult people, and respecting your coach. This is why we participate.

But every year gets a little harder on me as my kids are growing and the expectations on them raise. I can’t help but wonder what the heck ever happened to good old backyard ball. Back in the day, the kids organized games with those that were in a bike ride’s distance. I wonder how the invention of the automobile changed things. At what point did parent’s and marketing take a hold of the game?

In 1938, a man named Carl Stotz organized the first Little League in Williamsport, Pennsylvania to promote good sportsmanship, team work, and fair play as qualities leading to good citizenship. The first Little League sponsorship of $30 paid for all the equipment and uniforms for three teams.

Here I am paying $15 for socks. Aside from equipment and uniforms, we have team pictures, 45 minute drives to away games on IMG_0042-233x300school nights, concession stand sign ups, all-stars, and all that jazz. I am actually typing while swatting away bugs at Zaidee’s practice.

But now Little League, with all its demands, is no longer good enough. We keep getting the pressure to go the travel team route. Any child that shows athletic prowess is pressured to ditch community ball, or add travel to their already loaded schedule. Aside from the incredible costs, every weekend is spent on the road. Although Matt and I haven’t gone this route, it is astonishing to us how parents automatically think this is just what we are supposed to do. It is the same for our daughter’s volleyball team. And since our oldest is now playing for the high school, we are investing in camps and months of pre-season conditioning as well. Her “starting position” and playing time may be threatened because she didn’t play travel during the off-season.

All this makes me wonder what it is we expect from our kids these days. Apparently they can be dependents without a job, staying on our health insurance policies until they are 26 years old. But they have faux sports careers as preteens and high school students. Parents think nothing of dropping $250 for a pair of shoes, dedicating endless hours to fundraising, centering their own social life around their child’s athletic achievement, and gauging their own success as a parent on their kid’s high school athletic career. How many of these children will really be getting scholarships for their skills? And what are we spending to get them?

I’ve also been thinking about the whole invention of adolescence and how this new category has changed the expectations that we place on our teenagers. Responsibility has turned into the ability to find a sober ride home, or keeping embarrassing pictures off the internet. The pressure is to keep the grade point average and the batting average in the competitive zone.

Of course, as Christians we have different expectations. Right now I find myself struggling between teaching my kids that their identity and acceptance is not based on their achievements, but on their election in Christ before time ever began, and cheering them on in American sports. As a parent I am wondering how much of my own social life I should sacrifice on the altar of my child’s. How many cheapened family meals can we endure before the family cracks? How many more hustled bedtimes and tired conversations trying to catch up with my husband can I take? When do the parents cross the line and begin sending the wrong message that their children’s lives are what give them their meaning and value?

I think we have terribly swollen the original goals of raising good citizens by teaching our children sportsmanship, teamwork, and fair play. We seem to have made our children objects of glory. I find myself constantly having to combat the message that my kids are to be on a perpetual pursuit of gain and recognition. Somewhere we’ve turned the corner into raising little professionals.

 

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A Bigger Circle of Influence Than You May Think

feminine-threadsLast night I hosted a Housewife Theologian group for my church. We covered Chapter 7; on the responsibility God has given each one of us in our differing vocations as influencers. This morning as I was thinking about our discussion, I remembered Diana Lynn Severance’s wonderful book, Feminine Threads. This is a fascinating book about the service and influence of women in the church from the apostolic age through modern times. I thought I’d share an interesting excerpt from a mother in the mid-9th century. Her name is Dhuoda and she had two sons. Her husband, Bernard of Septimania, pledged loyalty to Charles the Bald during a typical Middle Ages sibling rivalry kingdom issue. Anyway, without getting into all those details, the important thing to know is that Bernard sent his 14-year-old son, William, to Charles’ court as a sign of his good faith.

Dhouda wrote a manual for her son full of theology and its applications of wisdom in life since she would not be able to impart any teachings and advice in person. Here is part of her prologue:

I Dhuoda, though frail in sex, living unworthily among worthy women, am nonetheless your mother, my son William: to you the words of my handbook are directed now. For, just as playing at dice seems for a time most comely and apt to the young, amid other worldly accomplishments, or again, as some women are wont to gaze in mirrors, to remove their blemishes and reveal their glowing skin, concerned to please their husbands here and now—in the same way I want you, when you’re weighed down by hosts of worldly and temporal activities, to read this little book I have sent you, often, in memory of me; don’t neglect it—use it as if it were a matter of mirrors or of games at dice.

Even if, more and more, you acquire books, many volumes, may it still please you to read frequently this little work of mine—may you have the strength to grasp it profitably, with the help of almighty God.  You will find in it, in epitome, whatever you choose to get to know; you will also find there a mirror in which, beyond a doubt, you can examine the condition of your soul, so that you can not only please the world, but please him in every way that fashioned you out of clay. So it is altogether necessary for you, my son William, to show yourself, in both ventures, as one who can be of service to the world and at the same time always, through every action, give delight to God. (p. 105)

That got me thinking about just how blessed I am to have my lovely children with me every day. There are three major reflections I’m taking form this wonderful excerpt of Severance’s book:

  1. Dhuoda had been greatly educated in Scripture and its theological applications to write this very rich letter to her son.  Some probably stemmed from her upbringing, and much from her disciplined love of God’s word as an adult. She took theology very seriously. Do we look at our own level of theological knowledge as an investment into the wisdom of our children?
  2. Most of us are blessed to raise our own children in our homes. But are we as consciously involved in training them in God’s ways as Dhuoda was for her son far removed from her? Are my words and actions like a mirror and manual to my children of the gospel of Jesus Christ? Do I exalt Christ and his gospel message to my children?
  3. Dhuoda did not live in the nunneries or the inner court circles that were held in high esteem at that time. Likewise, my life is not one of noted importance in our society. And yet, her love for God and her son are recorded in history. Our influence for God is big, no matter what our position in life. One day my children will leave the home. It would be an honor to be remembered for my love of Christ and my passion to teach them his Word. I pray that they see how the gospel interrupts all parts of this world with the great drama of redemption.

Dhuoda’s prologue is a mirror for me, reflecting a woman of great passion for God’s Word. Funny how you can influence far beyond your intended audience.

Highway to the Danger Zone

Matt and I have found ourselves in a completely different parenting stage. Gone are the days where we can control our children’s environment and make every decision for them. With a daughter in high school and one in middle school, we are painfully realizing that our job has now changed to preparing them for leaving. The other evening, the two of us were sitting on our back porch discussing some drama that one of the girls has found herself involved in, and I made a strange connection.

I had just read another article (HT: Megan Hill) about over-protective, over-parenting. As much as I like to combat this hyper-parenting trend, I know that I am still guilty. But my response to articles like this is changing as I reflect on this propensity to supervise our children’s activities to the point of their own detriment. I’m no longer fretting on whether I should let them go up the slide on their own, or if I should physically stay at the birthday party they’ve been invited to. Rather than worrying over the nearby creek or sketchy neighbor, I’m concerned over the worlds that I need to let my children enter independently.

That is exactly how the article The Over-Protected Kid begins. Hannah Rosin writes about a playground in North Wales called “The Land.” This fenced-in acre is basically a glorified junk yard, where children are encouraged to explore, discover, take risks, and play like kids did before parents became helicopters. There are beat up mattresses, tires galore, old couches, stacks of wooden pallets, and tin drums from which they can light a fire in. Sure, there are some responsible “playworkers” who make sure that there are no horrible injuries or sinister acts, but they watch with more of a hands-off approach.

Most parents would say this “adventure playground” is a major danger zone! Landscape Architect, Lady Marjory Allen, challenges the sterilized play environments that we have so calculatingly supplied, encouraging a “’free and permissive atmosphere’ with as little adult supervision as possible. The idea was that kids should face what to them seem like ‘really dangerous risks’ and then conquer them alone. That, she said, is what builds self-confidence and courage.”

But I think about the danger zones in social media that Matt and I are trying to coach our children how to best navigate, as we ourselves are learning at a slower rate than they are. I think about the school dances, the football games, and the independence they now want in hanging out with their friends. Part of this new territory is downright scary, and yet we know that there is much good to explore, experience, and learn for our kids during this new stage in still very formative years.

I remembered an article I wrote a couple of years ago titled Teenage Wasteland. Parents can easily coddle their teenagers and try to protect them from all pain and risks because we look at them as too young and incapable of traversing through the playground on their own. And so we shadow their every move and build a different kind of playground, couched with recycled tire flooring to protect them when they fall. And by fall, I mean, get a “B” on their test or don’t make the travel team.

We are the ones telling them they are too young. It seems that lack of experience distances the youth from gaining any respect from the middle-aged crowd (argh, is that me?), as well as the wise sages above them. So teenagers seem to roam around in the land of wild oats and technological advances. Maybe our hope is that they get all those wild oats out of their system before they have to really be responsible like us.

And let’s just say it, in much of the Christian culture, wild oats means shorts above finger tip length or listening to Justin Beiber.

This year was a strange reality check for me. A couple of months into the school year, it hit me. My daughter is a freshman in high school. The three years of middle school just flew by. I realized something very scary when my she was apprehensive about taking a pizza out of the oven herself (to her credit, it was on one of those heavy, awkward pizza stones, and I would let her have it if she broke it). I had been doing way too much for her, and now I only have 3 ½ years before she will likely be out the door and headed to college. The “pizza incident” clarified just how far her dad and I had to go in getting Solanna ready for real life.

I’ve coddled my daughter so much that she’d never taken a pizza out of the oven and she was scared to do it! She was the over-cautious kid that those helicopter parents I’ve made fun of produce! I’m glad to say that I have made some major changes since the fall. However, one thing that I realized with all this helicoptering is how we look at all the evils and dangers as outside elements, and fail to address the danger zone that is in our children’s hearts. Maybe much of this safety and health obsession is a clever distraction to the spiritual issues that are much harder to parent.

What I Learned from the Youngest Person in the Room

I had the honor of being the guest speaker at a women’s retreat last weekend. Given the setting of the retreat, and the four different sessions blocked out for me to speak, I incorporated about a half hour or so after every presentation to break into small groups and answer discussion questions. I actually prefer this sort of interaction over the time that I am standing at a podium talking. I can get an idea of whether I am communicating my content well, and how the women are processing and applying the material. But they aren’t the only ones learning. So am I. And last weekend I learned something from the youngest woman attending the retreat, a college student. I will call her Lottie.

What could it be? Read the rest over at Ref21. And if you have time, please come back and share your thoughts and experiences in the comments.

How Much of Your Past Do You Share with Your Children?

Like I’ve said before, Matt and I are approaching a whole new level of parenting. The questions now aren’t about when to potty train or whether or not to allow them to ride the bus. In a couple of weeks I will have a daughter entering high school, another entering middle school, and my son will be entering intermediate school (grades 3-5). Don’t ask me how this has happened. I have great potty training advice, and I could probably write my memoirs about the interesting conversations that have come from driving my kids to and from school myself. But now I have new questions.

One came up over the weekend. My nieces and nephew were getting baptized in the Anglican Church of North America and my sister and brother-in-law asked Matt and I to be Godparents. With this new honor and responsibility, I attended the parent class on baptism with them. The pastor was getting practical as he was talking about raising children. As he was giving good advice about giving many hugs and making them a priority, I blurted out my new question. “What do I say when my children ask me about my past?” It’s not rated G. It’s not rated PG. I’m unsure about how much to reveal.

Obviously I’m not going to offer up details. And of course there is an age-appropriateness involved in the whole thing. But like I said, I have a 14-year-old. We have had many talks about purity, so she is pretty educated about sexual activity. And she is well aware of drug use. Although I don’t believe she has encountered much temptation yet in these areas. As much as Matt and I have tried to prepare her, I keep stumbling on my “premeditated” answer for the doozy question. Currently, she still has a somewhat godly picture in her head about her parents. Matt has stated that we have made mistakes that we do not want them to have to endure. Do we just keep it at that?

Do we tell her what we’ve done? Do we honestly answer in a vague way, and then explain some of the spiritual and emotional consequences of our past decisions? Of course, I’m not volunteering to offer up any information unless confronted. I vocalized in the class my fear of them thinking, “Well mom and dad have done it, and they turned out to have a good marriage.” My children don’t have parents that use illegal drugs or have any STD’s. And yet there is so much more to it beyond these fearful consequences. I don’t want them to think that it is just a matter of escaping the doozies.

The pastor pointed out a recent study that reveals telling your kids about your sinful past can make them more likely to commit the same sins. He said I may be right about them thinking that mom and dad turned out fine, so why not try it. Like a good little student I went home and did some research. The study shows that telling your children about your past drug use does make them more likely to try it themselves, even if you are using yourself as an example to teach a lesson.

So it has been on my mind. Do I rely on the study? I don’t want to lie. Is it really going to help my kids to only find out the truth as adults that I told them I was somebody I wasn’t? I do care about credibility in the relationship. And I don’t want to hinder the truth about God’s grace. Frankly, I am where I am now because despite myself, God has been gracious. Sure, there have been consequences. But I didn’t get what I deserved and I know it.

There are a couple of families in our church where the story has turned out a little different. There are some wonderful women that my kids know who have had their first child out-of-wedlock when they were young. The biological father is out of the picture and they are now remarried to men that have adopted their firstborn. Now they have more children together and function well as a Christian family. But it isn’t easy, of course. In fact, it can be very difficult. And yet God is still gracious.

But we should never be presumptuous with God’s grace. And teenagers are the ambassadors of presumption.

My kids also have very real examples of couples that are intentional about pursuing purity in their relationship. Their youth leader, whom they adore, is now engaged and has been upfront about the purposeful ways that he and his now fiancé have strived to keep one another pure (of course, I am using the word pure loosely here, not because of any specific acts committed, but because of the reality of our sinful conditions). And there are others.

Help me out, readers. How much of your past do you share with your children? What have been your experiences with these discussions as you raise teenagers?