A Gift

Just a year ago, two boys (and their mom) moved in at the end of our street.  We met them one day as the boys and I headed to the court to practice riding Isaac’s bike without training wheels.  The boys at the end of the street were already pros at two wheelers and doing circles around us as we practiced balancing.  Within a week or two, Isaac was able to ride his bike with the other boys and they soon became friends.

We quickly crossed the boundaries of typical wave-when-you’re-at-the-mailbox neighbors, to neighborhood friends.  Now on any given afternoon, the youngest neighbor boy will barge into our house and immediately ask for candy (which I willingly give him (just one) because the more they eat, the less we have just sitting around the house).  During mealtimes, we have to lock our door, lest the boys walk in and choose to wait until we’re finished eating, thus distracting my boys from ever finishing their dinner.

What I love about the neighbor boys is that they are always outside.  They love to play and explore and run around.  That’s just what my kids need: opportunities to get rid of their endless source of energy.  My boys spent a lot of time this summer down at the court, exploring the woods beyond and making up games and just having fun.

Last Friday, my boys gave Randall and me a gift.  In a surprising change of events, Isaac was in a good mood when he hopped off the school bus Friday afternoon.  He ran inside and ate a snack and asked us to come see what he’d been doing the last few weeks.

Randall and I gladly grabbed a few balls and headed to the court.  We played a little tennis up at the subdivision clubhouse, then made a few shots in the basketball hoop.  Then Isaac asked us to come see the places he’d found within the woods.  The older neighbor boy found two little clearings within the trees and they decided they would call them “clubhouses.”

Isaac took us to see the biggest clubhouse first.  It was a clearing just big enough for a couple of broken chairs and a few boards to sit on.  Randall said that’d be the place the boys would go to drink in their teen years.  Randall even told Isaac that one day he’d want to take a girl back here and makeout.  I reminded Randall that Isaac had no idea what the term “makeout” means and he didn’t need to know.  Isaac was fine with that.  He was too distracted showing us the passages in and out of the small wooded area.

I’m not ready to think about the future.  In Isaac’s mind, this place is an imaginary mansion.  He kept calling it the “mansion clubhouse.”  You don’t drink and makeout in a mansion (shhh… don’t tell me what you do in your mansion).  In Isaac’s mansion, you sit on your throne and relax after a hard day of work.

Asher gave us a tour of the other clubhouse. It was much smaller, in a separate group of trees but had an emergency exit.  I loved hearing all about the things my boys have been imagining.  It made my heart smile.

Lastly, they brought us to a small vine, hanging off of a tree, where they could swing.  Asher seriously started humming the theme to Indiana Jones.

 

 

 

When I let my boys into my world a little bit, something happens in our family.  A bond is made and we all understand each other better.  When my boys help me cook dinner, or when I tell them all about the book I’ve just read, we connect on a level that brings us all closer together.  When my boys ask to hear about the stories I’m reading, or ask to be a part of my daily routine, I am overjoyed.

It was a gift, the boys gave us, to invite us into their little world.  But I bet it is a gift when I ask them to show me what excites them, just the same.  It’s something I never want us to grow out of, that’s for sure.

 

 

Isaac and Asher, please never stop including Mom and Dad in your adventures.  Let us always in on the joy that you find.  We love it!

Overheard

Asher:  Mom!  Isaac just jumped off the deck, but he’s not hurt!

Mom: [Open mouth stare]

Isaac: [enters through the garage door]  

Mom: Isaac Benjamin, come here.

Isaac: [trying (not too hard) to hide a smile.]  What?

Mom:  Did you just jump off of the deck?

Isaac: Yes!

Mom: On purpose?  Or did you fall off?

Isaac: On purpose, but I slid down the rail and hanged from the deck and then dropped.

Mom: Was that a wise decision?

Isaac: Yes!  It was awesome!

 

 

I was speechless, so I just laughed at him and told him we were calling his father (because that’s what you call your dear husband when his kid does something stupid).  Randall all but congratulated him, but admitted this was not a conversation to have over the phone.

Randall and I talked.  He wants to raise kids that are not afraid to be adventurous.  I want to raise kids that don’t know the ER nurses by name.  But again, we’re at this tension between safety and adventure.

We decided that we should commend Isaac for taking a risk, but remind him to always consider the consequences when he decides to endanger himself…  We told him that we were proud of him for assessing the situation and hanging from the deck before he let go the remaining 2-3 feet.  We reminded him that when you choose to jump from the deck, you risk breaking a bone which takes a long time to heal, and even when you decide to hang off the deck, you risk getting splinters.  We told him to always consider all the repercussions before he acts on a chance.  

I want my kids to know that I love them and would rather them always be safe, but I also think there is an important life lesson that comes when your kids are able to make their own mistakes.  It lets them know that parents know best, but also respect you enough to let you decide for yourself.

Please be assured that I know a seven year old is not old enough to decide most things for himself.  But when the possibility is a skinned knee or splinter, I think it’s worth a shot for an adventure. I want Isaac to always be able to talk to me about the actions he’s considering and the risks he’s taking and even the mistakes he’s made.  This was our first test to see how we’d react.

The last rule we gave him was to keep it a secret.  We don’t want all the neighborhood kids coming over and jumping off our deck.  If your kids come over to play, we will not allow them to participate in risky behavior and we asked Isaac not to tell anyone about the risks he’s taking.

Fifteen minutes later, of course, Isaac was pretending to tightrope walk across the top of our 10 foot tall swing set in front of the neighbor kids…



Philippe Petit had absolutely NO FEAR of heights.  This is not the kind of kid I want to raise.  Yes, I want my son to notice beauty and to have adventures, no I don’t want him to participate in needless acts of danger.    There is a place for healthy fear!

But I also don’t want fear to stop my kids from living an adventurous life.  Asher is already wise enough to learn from others’ mistakes, but he doesn’t want to take his training wheels off because he’s seen the kind of scrapes you get when you fall off your bike…

So how do we as parents walk the tightrope between safety, adventure, and fearlessness?

 


For me, I’m going to take it one day at a time.  When Isaac decides to try to jump off of the roof, I’m going to draw the line and hold my ground!  I’m going to keep praying for my boys.  I have never been a worrier, never like I am when I worry about my boys.  But worrying doesn’t help anything.  I will continue to pray each night for their health and safety.  But just like allowing kids to be exposed to germs strengthens their immune system, I’m going to allow my kids to be exposed to risks to strengthen their character.  I pray for protection from harm and protection for their innocence.  

I sincerely question what I would do if something happened to one of my boys.  Because things do happen, even when our kids aren’t being daring.  Will I regret this philosophy some day?  Honestly, I don’t know.  I can’t say.  But for now, I’m going to give my children limits.  I’m going to give them freedoms as well.  And I’m going to give them to God and do the best I can as a parent.

 

 

God, help me to make wise decisions when it comes to parenting my kids.  For my kids, I pray the blessing from Numbers 6:24-26:

‘May the Lord bless you
    and protect you, Isaac and Asher.
 May the Lord smile on you
    and be gracious to you.
 May the Lord show you his favor
    and give you his peace.’

The Kind of Mom I Want to Be

Here’s another author I love:

Neil-Gaiman

I’m not sure the kids are ready for his stories yet, but he wrote this for a “This American Life” on NPR:

Neil Gaiman

I told my wife that I was going to write about adventures, and she laughed without stopping for two minutes. I timed her. She laughed from 11:09 until 11:11. “Are you going to tell them,” she said when she pulled herself together and more or less stopped laughing, “about how you call every trip to the store an adventure?” I told her that I wasn’t, that I was going to write something rich, and true, and wonderful for the radio.

There would be aliens in it, and prehistoric monsters, Aztecs and vampires, crazed scientists and their beautiful daughters. It would contain, somewhere in its 700 words, spies and swordsmen, oracles and barbarians, ghosts, a dancing bear, wise women, werewolves, foot-long carnivorous centipedes, and quite possibly some illicit sex.

She still laughed. I don’t think she believed me. And she’s right. I get it from my parents, I’m afraid. In my family, adventure tended to be used to mean any minor mishap we survived, or even any break from routine, except by my mother, who still uses it to mean what she did that morning.

I suspect that my father, who loved G. K. Chesterton’s essays, had encountered Chesterton’s aphorism that an inconvenience is only an adventure looked at the wrong way, and an adventure only an inconvenience wrongly considered, and he took it to heart. So any inconvenience, any problem, any struggle of a personal nature, any of these things in my family would be described as an adventure.

Let’s admit it. Real adventures are the sorts of things most of us would just as soon avoid. I wouldn’t know what to do if I were on a plane that crashed into an Amazonian dinosaur valley, or a Fumanchu unleashed his centipedes of doom in my general direction. Probably I’d die, quickly and fairly horribly. A character in one of my novels, Tristan Thorn, put this better than I or any of my family members ever managed to. “Adventures were all very well in their place,” he thought, “but there’s a lot to be said for regular meals and freedom from pain.”

 

There is something inside us all that craves Adventure.  I want to be the kind of mom; the kind of person that finds adventure every day.  Parenthood certainly is an adventure in and of itself!

If you think about it, we’re all living a story.  We’ll all leave a legacy behind us when we move on.  Some of us are living a story that just isn’t very interesting.  Living a great story doesn’t mean I have to be famous or do something hugely impactful in this world.  But it does mean I have to move.  I have to change.  I have to experience new things and take risks.  I have to use the gifts God’s given me.  And do what I do with my whole heart.  I have to try hard.  I have to love hard.  I have to live with passion.  And in doing so, I will make an impact on MY world.

 

Let Go

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We bought the boys walkie talkies for Christmas because they’ve been wanting to branch out and leave their momma farther than she likes.

So now when our friends at the end of the street want Isaac and Asher to come play, Isaac takes the walkie and gives me one.  We check the battery, and practice our walkie lingo, and then send them on their way.

Here’s what happened last week:

Isaac was down at the court and I felt the need to come over the walkie to tell him I loved him.

“Isaac, Come in.”

“What”

“I love you.”

“… Me too.”

“Roger that, Over and out”

He said (in a way) that he loved me over the walkie talkie in front of his little punk friends!  Ha!  Still got him!

 

Here’s what happened this week:

I took Tabby (the dog) for a walk down to the court to check on the boys.  They were taking turns getting in a wagon with no sides and being pulled as fast as possible down a sloped driveway and into the street.  When I arrived, Asher and Isaac were getting in for the first time.  The look on Asher’s face was sheer horror as he realized what he was about to do.  His white knuckled hands tightly gripped the small lip on the wagon.  They raced down the driveway and into the street.  It was probably a 10 second ride. I wanted to laugh at Asher’s face, but I also wanted to tell the boys not to do that anymore. Or to wear helmets.  Or to tie pillows around their sides… and fronts and backs… plus the helmets and elbow and knee pads…

I just kept imagining the wagon tipping over and me having to take someone to the ER.

And then it occurred to me.  When I was a kid and I wanted to do fun things like slide down the stairs in a sleeping bag, or dance in the rain of a thunderstorm, or climb out a second story window using knotted sheets and some adult told me that I couldn’t do that.  It made me think that parents were lame.  In my head, they were lame, not just because they were telling me not to have fun, but because, they obviously had never experienced that kind of fun before themselves.  I always thought that if an adult was telling me not to do something, then that activity was scary to them.

It never occurred to me that of course they had done risky, possibly painful things like that in the past but they were telling me not to do it because they cared more about my safety than my need for adventure.

Then it occurred to me that both a child’s safety, and their need for adventure are important.  Kids need to do risky things every once in a while.  It helps them to grow!  As much as we want our kids to always stay little, our JOB is to help them grow.

I was talking to another parent this week who was raised in Egypt.  In third grade, she started taking the city bus to school.  Her dad walked her to the bus station where she would board one bus, catch a second one at the next stop and then arrive safely near her school.  She said there was an atmosphere of protectiveness from every adult she came in contact with.  The bus driver would often drop her off at the door to the school instead of the bus stop nearest school.  People would give up their seats on the bus for her.  Now that was a different culture and a different era than my boys are growing in now.  She reminded me that adults are cautious to help stranger kids for fear of a law suit these days.  She said she and her husband were at a park when a little girl near by was having a hard time getting on a swing.  Her husband asked if they should help her and she told him, men don’t get to help little girls anymore.

The idea that “it takes a village” to raise a child rarely applies anymore because parents are so fearful of their very own village!  Even if you feel you live in a safe area, parents are called neglectful if they let their children take risks… So they don’t.  The result is over protected, spoiled kids who don’t know how to survive in their own environment.  College kids have to call their parents to ask how to wash their clothes.  People are applying for jobs for the first time ever after they graduate.  Kids get their first taste of freedom when they get their drivers liscense and they get out of control because they don’t know how to handle the freedom they’re experiencing.

When my boys are out of my sight, 8 houses down the street, that is a very risky activity in my mind…  I can’t get anything done.  I pace around the house and make frequent trips to the window and mailbox to check on my boys. I love my boys with a fierce love.  I think they know that.  But I also know that my own comfort and ability to relax does not mean that I am being a great parent.  In fact, it may be the opposite.

I think it’s true of adults: if you never step out of your comfort zone, then you will never grow, change, or live a great story.  And that’s probably a widely accepted idea.  So the same is true with our kids: If we don’t let them take risks and scare the beejeezus out of us every once in a while, how will they grow?  Yes, they will get bigger.  Yes they will learn new things.  But will they be independent?  Will they be courageous?  Will they be adventurous, assets to society?

 

Here are my thoughts (and I think in Dr. Seuss and Uncle Shelby):

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Let them play,

Let them run,

Let them jump,

And have fun.

 

They are little

And they are ours,

But give them freedom

Give them power.

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They are children

And they will grow.

If they are loved

Then they will know.

 

Give them the chance

To try and fail

Or spread their wings

And learn to sail!

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Pick them up.

Always be there

And you will show

How much you care.

 

They will thank you.

I hope so.

When little by little

you learn to let go.

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Poetry 101 by Emily Littleton