Category Archives: Adventures in Parenting

Finding God in the math homework

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Two weeks ago my kindergartener and I were sitting at the dining room table after dinner.  I was helping him with his math homework, which involved counting and coloring stars.  He sat there, blue crayon in hand, intent on his work, when all of a sudden he spoke.

“God made the stars to give us light,” he said.

“That’s right. He did.”

“And he gave us the moon and the sun, too,” he informed me solemnly.

I love it, these childhood flashes of spiritual connection, this flexible little mind that thinks of God right in the middle of a math worksheet.  Increasingly, I can do the same; I have become better over the years at letting awareness of God’s presence color the various events of my day.  But there are still many things I do where it’s harder to sense God, to connect the dots between my task and the divine.

I think of things like sitting in traffic, or grading stacks of papers, or waiting on hold with the DMV.  And I’m not sure I’ve ever thought of God while doing a math assignment, unless it involved a desperate silent prayer uttered moments before a pre-calculus test.  (I’m a word girl, not a number girl.)

But St. Ignatius believed you can find God in all things, and ultimately I believe it, too.  Some things and situations are easier than others,  but maybe that’s why we need other people; they find the connections we miss, just like my son did when his math homework became an occasion to think of the Creator.   Other people see the fingerprints of God in places where I just see smudges.  And when they share, they gently train us to have a sharper, clearer vision than we did before.

So that’s my challenge: to try to make my mind as flexible as my kindergartener’s, a mind that bends toward God even in the traffic and the math.

Why I stink at resting

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I went to the doctor earlier this week to ask about this weird cold/respiratory thingy that has dragged on and on for weeks.  He gave the diagnosis I always hate to get: An unspecified virus, something that medicine won’t cure.  Nothing to do but wait it out.

“And you really should be staying home from work and resting,” he told me.

I almost burst out laughing.

“I’m a teacher,” I said. “Unless I’m dying or in labor, it’s just easier to go to work.”  He must have a teacher or two in his family, because he smiled sympathetically .

Later that day, I recalled our conversation. I realized that it touched on a few big truths: one about my profession, and one about myself.

Teaching may be one of the only jobs where it is just as much work to stay home sick as it is to go in.  A sick teacher gets the joy of writing directions and lesson plans, figuring out what a sub needs to know about the students in your class.  There’s the retweaking of the lessons you thought you’d be doing yourself, which  will have to be altered in the face of your absence (even the best sub won’t be able to give that background lecture on Victorian England).

Often, staying home affects the rest of the week’s lesson plans, too, as you realize you can’t do Thursday’s lesson unless you’ve adequately covered the stuff you were going to get to on Wednesday, and since someone else will be doing Wednesday’s lesson now, you have to make sure the kids learned everything you wanted them to learn before you go on.

This is why I teach when I’m sick.  It’s just too much work otherwise.

But this conversation with the doctor also touched on a truth about my non-professional self.  Even when I’m not teaching – when I’m home during summer, say– I’m simply not very good at taking it easy when I’m sick. 

Is this a female thing?  I think it might be.  Even though my husband is fabulous about taking care of the kids, there is still some very primal, very archaic part of my mind that seems to think that I need to be on top of it all, because I’m the mom, and the wife, and the woman.  I feel guilty about resting, even though no one is making me feel guilty but my own weird little mind.

And even if I’m home sick, I still notice things that need doing: the unmade bed, the teetering laundry baskets, the stuff in the entryway that needs organizing.  My husband has a higher tolerance for clutter than I do, which is good in some ways, but it also means that he’s not likely to take the initiative and de-messify on his own.   And when I’m not feeling good to begin with, I feel even worse when the floor is strewn with stuff.  This means that my ill little self ends up putting it away instead of hunkering down on the sofa with a blanket and an entire season of Monarch of the Glen.

All of this explains why — bizarre as it sounds – I don’t dread going to the hospital.   I look back with nostalgic fondness on last summer’s surgery, as well as on last year’s day spent in the ER for stomach pains. I’ve realized that being in the hospital is the only way that I can completely rest without guilt.   I can’t clean house if I’m hooked up to an IV, can I?  If you plotted my relaxation levels on a graph, my hospital stays would be right up there with my infrequent spa visits.   (“That’s really, really sad,” said my brother-in-law.)

He has a point.  If a friend of mine were to tell me all this, I’d tell her she needs to change.  I’d tell her she needs to be better about doing what the doctor ordered and – gasp! – resting for a while.  I’m not sure how, but I know I need to find some way  to chip away at these old thought patterns – some are actually more like  instinct patterns, not even thoughts – that make it so darn hard to stop taking care of everyone else and let others take care of me for a while.

Something to strive for, anyway.

If I could pick my own set of superpowers….

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As the mother of two boys, superheroes are often on my mind (and on the floor, and under the table, and wedged between sofa cushions).   This is one of the many discoveries of parenthood; as a kid myself, my own tastes ran more towards Barbie and Strawberry Shortcake than Batman and Spiderman, so the whole Marvel thing is pretty new to me.  But I have to say, there’s something pretty cool about these characters and all their superhuman powers.

And all this leads to an irresistible question: If I myself could possess any  set of superpowers, which ones would I choose? 

Obviously, if this were a real choice I’d go for the big ones, like curing cancer or ending child exploitation or global warming.  But once those powers were firmly established, there are still some secondary superpowers I’d like to have. These are powers that would exist simply to make my life as a working mom a little bit easier.  (I can dream, can’t I?)

Here they are, in no particular order.

*The ability to find an available parking space just by thinking about it, even in the most crowded lot (particularly when a small passenger has just informed that he really REALLY needs to use the toilet).

*Related power: The ability to snap my fingers and clean even the most noxiously disgusting public restroom.

*The power to bilocate (needed for the days when the boys are on vacation and I, alas,  am not.)

*X-ray vision so as to immediately locate the miniscule Lego figure that is lost somewhere in the snarl of our messy house and whose discovery is absolutely critical to a small boy’s happiness. (Couldn’t they make those guys bigger?  Outfit them with  GPS tracking devices? )

*The power to make all airline flights run on time.   (If you’ve ever been delayed in an airport with small kids, you know that every minute feels like a week).

*Super-elasticity, so I could make the bunk beds without flirting with back injury

*The power to freeze time, for those moments when your child does something heart-stoppingly earnest or sweet or touching.  (If only we could, right?)

I’m sure I’ll think of more, but that’s my first pass at the list. What are the superpowers that YOU long to have?

The World Cup in our living room

It’s all about the soccer these days.

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And aren’t these fans remarkably sedate?

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Letting them wander in the desert of boredom

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Boredom built this.

This conversation took place in our house yesterday:

Son to me, wandering aimlessly around the house: I’m bored.   What can I do?

Me, in the middle of doing housework: How about cleaning your room?

Son:  I don’t want to.  What else can I do?

Me: Sorry.  That was my only suggestion.

It’s not even summer vacation yet, and already I’m starting to hear it.  I’m bored.  I don’t know what to do. Tell me something to do. 

But I’m finding that these words don’t have the power they once had.  This is because I’ve learned that I’m not responsible for solving my sons’ boredom for them.

Sure, some  part of me still wants to drop whatever I’m doing and come up with some very elaborate, crafty, Pinterst-worthy Mom-of-the-Year kind of activity  to engage him.  But I’m resisting, because I have learned that when it comes to my kids, boredom is not a bad thing.  It’s actually a good thing, because it’s the fertile soil out of which intense creativity begins to grow.

When my kids are bored, forts appear  in the living room.  Bunk beds turn into rocket ships.  Halloween costumes come out of hiding.  Miniature cities and highways are built with construction paper, crayons and tape.  Elaborate pictures are drawn, epic battles of multi-eyed space aliens and dashing superheroes.   If I wait it out, the plaintive statements of boredom morph into the sounds of two little boys who are utterly engaged in their imaginative play … and that’s music to my ears.

That’s not to say that I never throw them a bone and give them something fun to do.  But I’ve found that if I leave them to their own devices and let them wander in the desert for a bit – even with some grumbling along the way - they eventually manage to lead themselves to the land of milk and honey and a heckuva lot of fun.

(For more thoughts on boredom, especially as it relates to time in the car, check out Why I Want My Kids to Be Bored.)