Category Archives: Adventures in Parenting

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.)

Saved by the little things

Four years ago, I wrote an article about The Catcher in the Rye’s Holden Caulfield as a spiritual guide.  I wrote about how this angry, angsty, isolated teenager  seems to have uncovered one of the secrets of life: noticing and loving the little things.

It’s a lesson I write about a lot.  Maybe that’s because it’s a lesson that is all too easy to forget.

Witness last weekend.  It was like two weekends’ worth of events crammed into one, the kind of weekend where you are running from one event to another. They were good things — a friend’s wedding, a carnival, soccer for the boys, a tea fundraiser with my mom and aunt — but it was a weekend with no downtime, with the net result that Sunday evening arrived and I was an exhausted mom with a stack of grading that had gone untouched all weekend.

But even in my most stressed-out moments, there were little glimpses of grace and beauty.

At Peet’s yesterday evening, waiting for my drink and girding my loins to go sit down  and grade, I saw two diminutive paper cranes poised on the top of the cash register.  One was made of  black paper, one of purple and green.   I don’t know who made them, or put them there, but they made me suddenly and unaccountably happy.

Or this: driving along the freeway with my kids, racing with the clock and casting  frequent apprehensive glances into the rearview mirror at my oldest son who was claiming to feel carsick, I couldn’t help but notice the green hills slowly turning gold just outside my windows. It was arresting and beautiful, like witnessing spring shift into summer right before my eyes.

Or this: looking around my cluttered desk, which desperately needs purging, I came across this little art project from Luke’s preschool.  A few swirls of fingerpaint, a few little lines drawn by a small eager hand, and you have happiness on paper.

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It’s all these little things that save me, sometimes.  They save me from that suburban-working-mom panic of having too much on my plate, just as surely as they saved Holden  Caulfield from teenage existential despair.  They’re the little moments of grace, and they really aren’t little at all.

What has been a moment of grace for you today?

What the smartphone can’t do


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It came out of nowhere, as so many of my kids’ questions seem to do.  I was standing at the kitchen sink, adding new water to a vase of flowers and stripping off the rotting leaves that had been sitting below the waterline, when my seven-year-old called out to me.

“Mom, what’s the meaning of life?”

A range of thoughts flashed through my mind: momentary panic; flattery at being asked; excitement at the fact that he was even asking the question, indicating a future career as a philosopher or mystic or maybe even a writer.

I got this, I thought as I kept stripping slimy leaves off of the flower stalks

“Well,” I said, “It’s about finding what gives you joy and doing it.  And it’s about helping other people.  But mostly, it’s about being loving.”  Not bad for an off-the-cuff answer, I thought to myself.  I waited for a thoughtful “Okay,” in response.

“Can we ask the phone?” he said.

Nothing like motherhood to keep you humble.

Honestly, though, this little exchange got me thinking.  It certainly shows how much my child trusts technology.  That little rectangle that you plug in every night can tell you how many people there are on earth, or whether it will rain tomorrow.  With our help, Matthew has already found those answers that way.

He  doesn’t yet know that some questions can’t be answered by the phone.  They can only be answered by living, by praying, by gathering information from people like your parents and other elders, by thinking and sifting and growing.

But it also makes me wonder if I’m really so different from my child.  Don’t I also turn to technology for things it can’t give me?

Yes, I do.  I do it often, and I’m not alone. It’s so seductive, this Internet thing, and it’s easy:  easier to play a video game alone rather than play a board game with the kids,  easier to surf Ebay rather than sitting in silence and surfing the waves of prayer,  easier to turn to Facebook  instead of turning to the face of the person sitting right next to us.

I’ve never done a social media or Internet fast for Lent, but I think it’s a good idea.  I love blogging and connecting with others online,  but having any kind of online presence can demand a lot of attention, and I don’t like that.  There’s a tendency to let it take too much of my time, to pull my focus from the things that require more effort but bring greater rewards.  When all is said and done, I don’t want to be measuring  my life in blog hits.  I want to measure it in books read, in hugs from my kids, in laughs my husband and I share, in dinners out, in ideas pondered, in flowers arranged and enjoyed, in time with friends, in all of that real, tangible, three-dimensional stuff, the stuff that takes more effort perhaps but that ends up being so much more satisfying than anything you can get from a screen.

I didn’t say all this to my son, of course.  I simply told him that the phone can’t answer his question, and suggested that he ask Daddy for his perspective.  I’m not sure he believed me, but he’ll understand someday.

And I filed the conversation away as a reminder for myself, too: A reminder to look for answers and meaning in the right places.

What we talk about when we talk about prayer


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I’m always on a quest to understand my own spiritual life more fully.  Lately, I’ve been trying to understand my kids’ spiritual lives, too.

This came up in a big way last Wednesday, as I drove my preschooler to meet Grandma, who was going to watch him for the day.  As we sat in the inevitable line of cars snaking off of the freeway, I looked at him in the rearview mirror. He seemed in a reflective mood, and we weren’t going anywhere in a hurry,  so I suddenly had the idea to engage him in a conversation about prayer.

“Sweetie, do you ever pray?” I asked.  “Do you ever just talk to God?”

“Yes,” he said.

“Do you ever say, Thank you, God, for the good things in life?”

“Mmm-hmm.”

English teacher that I am,  I felt a specific illustration might enhance the discussion.  “You know how we pray before dinner,  and we thank God for the food, or the fun weekend, or our family ?”

“Mmm-hmm.”

“Well,  you can do that any time of day.”   Warming to the theme, I looked at the green hillside next to the highway, which was full of yellow wildflowers in bloom.  “For example, I can say, Thank you, God, for the green grass and the yellow flowers, for all the things I love.  I can do that anytime I want,” I told him.

“I just farted,” he said.

And so it goes.

But you know what?  I’m going to take my own advice here.  Thank you, God, for  the gift of this  irrepressible, sweet, hilarious little boy.

And if he ever becomes a priest, I’ll make sure this post goes viral.