Scare Tag

The last night, because my kids requested it, we played scare tag.

We shut off all the lights in the house after dark.  All of them. Then we separated.

There are no real rules to the game, we just turn off all lights and try to scare each other.  Everyone is “it”.

The boys stuck together, but Randall and I hid in the shadows around the house.  The boys came looking for us, knowing that around any corner, Randall or I would jump out with a loud Boo and scare them half to death.

I have to admit, the game made me nervous.  The first time I played, I picked a spot flooded by the light of the street lamp outside, sat, and waited for the scarers to come for me.  But last night, as I played again, I got the hang of it.  My eyes adjusted to the dark quickly and I was able to move about the house stealthily.

I’ve questioned how fear and parenting go together before, but I think character can be shaped from these types of experiences.  I’m astonished at how brave my sons are.  Isaac uses the excuse that he’s afraid of the dark so we’ll keep the hall light on while he’s trying to sleep.  The truth behind that is, that he wants to read in bed.  We know now, he’s not at all afraid of the dark.  I saw him time after time grabbing Asher’s hand and saying, “Let’s be brave,” as they’d head out in search of their silent father.

I think the most powerful thing I noticed in this game is how my boys trust their parents.  Yes, Mom and Dad will jump out at me, yes, they will make a loud noise that will startle me.  No, that is not something to fear.

Can that be translated to our lives?  Do we have a loving father that will make any scary situation okay?  In a time when christians were being killed and jailed, Paul, in Hebrews 13 says:

For God has said,

     “I will never fail you.
         I will never abandon you.”

     So we can say with confidence,

     “The Lord is my helper,
         so I will have no fear.
         What can mere people do to me?”

Yes, we may be startled in life. God does not promise to keep us away from all harm, but do we need to be afraid?  We can put our trust in the safety of our Father.

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

 

 

 

The Chart

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In order to promote responsibility in our house, Randall and I bought a chart to keep track of good behavior and completed chores.  It has some suggested chores and behaviors, as well as some blank magnets to write your own responsibilities.  It’s cute.   And every time Asher says the word “chart” I silently giggle a little.  (He has a problem with replacing the ch sound with an sh sound.  Someday I’ll be an adult…)

The boys earn smiley face magnets when they complete a chore or when they’ve had a day of good behavior.  When the boys share and play nicely all day, they get a magnet.  When they brush their teeth and pick up toys they get a magnet.  At the end of the week, if the boys have earned enough magnets, they get to choose their reward.  The first week, they earned a toy from Target’s dollar section.  The chart really seemed to be working.  The next week, they earned a trip to the zoo.  That was the last time the boys earned a reward.

The thing is, they are often nice to each other and they always clear the table and brush their teeth.  But they HATE picking up toys and making their beds.  There is no amount of motivation that will make them clean their rooms these days…

The other thing I have to admit is that the chart is for me, too.  Parenting is hard.  I will always be new to each phase of parenting and discipline.  I’m constantly learning and trying new things.  But for the past five years one thing hasn’t changed much.  I yell.  I yell a lot.  And when I’m trying not to yell, I just give them the evil eye.

A few weeks ago, I was trying to get the boys to brush their teeth before school.  Asher was doing a good job but Isaac was choosing this moment to throw a fit and not brush his teeth.  I rationalized with him.  “Isaac, we brush our teeth twice every day.  This is not a new thing.  The reason I ask you to brush your teeth is because it keeps them healthy.  We have to brush the food away so it doesn’t start eating away at your teeth, causing holes and pain in your teeth.”  It wasn’t working.

I tried a different tactic. “Isaac, just brush your teeth and be done with it.  You’re making us late for school.”  That was the wrong idea.  Then he started freaking out that he was going to be late for school!

So I tried my final measure.  I squinted my eyes and gave him my I’m-about-to-be-very-angry-with-you look and said in a forced whisper, “Then Brush Your Teeth!”  He continued to cry in hysterics and I lost it.

I slapped my own hand and yelled, “BRUSH YOUR TEETH!”  And then I saw the look on his face.  It was fear.  My son is scared of me.  That’s not a good feeling.  That’s never what I intended.  In those precious months when you’re expecting your first child, you pray a lot.  You ask for health and happiness.  You ask for guidance.  You never pray that your child will fear you.   It was an eye opening experience.

So I apologized.  That’s something a parent can’t be afraid to do.  I hugged him tight and apologized for yelling and told him I loved him and that we could drive to school and make it on time and helped him brush his teeth.

Then I went downstairs and filled out a blank magnet on the chart that said, “STOP YELLING.”  When Isaac got home from school, we talked about how sometimes I mess up and sometimes I disobey, too.  I showed the boys the new addition to the chart and told them that they would be allowed to give me a magnet if I stop yelling.

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You should be pleased to know that I have earned that magnet for three or so weeks now, every day (but two).  And the boys know, they can take away my magnet if I yell.  They are eager to do that.  Don’t worry.  They threaten to all the time.  Anytime I raise my voice to reach a kid’s ear that is far away, they ask if they can take away a magnet.  I don’t think those times count.

But I’m amazed at how easy it has been to make a conscious effort to change.  There are a few things in my life that have been my fatal flaws; temptations I’ve always struggled with and have never been able to make much progress against.  But I thank God that He helps me to overcome this one struggle.

 

May we never be too proud to ask forgiveness from our own kids.  May we always strive to learn and improve on our parenting skills.  God, may you always be my guide as I guide my kids.  Please protect them from the inevitable moments that I screw them up.  Teach me how to be a good mother and raise godly boys.  Amen.

Fear Itself

Warning: These links are NOT approved for all audiences.

The other day, Isaac wanted to play a game at school before class started.  A year or so ago, I taught him this game I saw on this really scary movie.  It’s a great, quick children’s game.  One person is “it” and stands facing a tree while every other player stands at a designated point behind him.  The person who is “it” knocks on the tree and says, “One, two, three knocking on the tree”.  While the person is facing the tree and speaking, the other players silently creep towards him.  When he finishes his chant, he turns around and everyone must freeze.  If the “knocker” sees anyone moving, they have to go back to the beginning.  The “knocker” then turns back to face the tree and knocks again.  Eventually the silent creepers will get close enough to tag the knocker and he will have to chase them and tag the person who tagged him first. It’s a really fun (and creepy) game.

So Isaac wanted all the kids to play 1, 2, 3 so he asked Michelle if she knew how to play.  She confidently told him she did.  But started up a conversation with another “classmate”, avoiding Isaac all together.  But this story is really just a pointless tangent.  I just wanted to include a link to our newest favorite ghost story.

 

I’ve been contemplating something lately.  Is it okay to let your children be afraid?  Is it okay to be afraid yourself?

Growing up, fear was not really an option.  It’s not that we weren’t allowed to be afraid or express our fear of something, but my parents did a good job of explaining away those fears.  My dad raised us on scary movies.  It was his impression that if a scary movie didn’t have blood or violence (or adult situations) it was fine for kids to watch.  So we grew up watching Alfred Hitchcock movies and the like.  As a kid, my favorite movie was Poltergeist.  I even remember watching IT on TV.  It was on TV so it was safe, right?  It scared the crap out of me but I loved it!

Until my older sister, Laura, started reenacting it with my stuffed clown doll.  We shared a room and had bunk beds.  I can just remember going to bed at night and looking for that dumb clown doll.  When it was missing, I knew I’d see it again soon.  I’d wait eyes peeled in suspense for when it would show up again.  Usually it would appear as if it was floating down from the top bunk, saying something awful like, “They all float up here, Emily!”

There was one movie in particular that I had to watch over and over until I was finally brave enough to finish it around the age of 12.  The Changeling is one of my dad’s favorite ghost stories.  It’s a great movie!  It’s very quotable.  At least every person in my extended family would know exactly how to say such simple words as “my father” and make a chill go up your spine.  And the music is excellent!  Now that I’ve taken my family members on a trip down memory lane, I’ll continue with my real thoughts.

I just remember the few times I was afraid, my dad sat me down and explained away my fears.  When I was afraid of a thunderstorm, he would tell me it’s just like God is bowling.  Isn’t that fun, to imagine that God is bowling up in Heaven?  He’d say, “you like rock music, don’t you?  It’s loud and always has good drums.  You’re not afraid of drums are you?  Don’t be afraid of thunder just because it’s loud.”  And he was right.  To this day, thunder is one of my favorite things to listen to.

I remember a very specific moment when we decided to go to Six Flags and test out the new Ninja ride.  I loved roller coasters as a kid but I had never been on a ride that had loops; that actually took me upside down.  So I was stoked to ride it.  I was so excited up until the point that we pulled into the parking lot.  I started crying.  I remember Dad saying that it was safe.  It had to be safe or they’d never put it in an amusement park.  There was nothing to worry about.  I’m sure he even explained the physics of what happens when the coaster goes through those loops.  I got my courage and rode the coaster.  I’m sure I had a headache afterwords because that is the worst ride in the park, but it was fun and I’m glad I did it.

I’ve always been proud to say that there really is nothing I’m afraid of.  Until I had kids.  Then the thought of losing a kid, or even screwing them up became my big fears.  So, will I screw up my kids if I refuse to let them be afraid of anything?  I feel like I turned out okay.  I’m not too hard of a person, am I?

My dad still has the same philosophy about scary movies.  One of Isaac’s first Halloweens, we came to DnA’s (Doug and Angie, a pet name the Kirkland kids use for our parents) to trick or treat.  While my mom filled my kids with sugar (apparently, that’s every grandmother’s civil duty), my dad introduced Isaac to Poltergeist.  I was talking with Kayleigh and Brian as they got dressed and ready for their evening when I realized what Isaac was watching.  My dad commenced to tell me that when you explain to a child what to expect in the next scary scene, it is no longer scary to them.  Here’s how the conversation went down.

Grandpa:  Hey Isaac, watch this:  This guy’s face is going to melt into the sink.  You’re going to love it!

The first week of school, Isaac was telling me what he liked to play at recess.  He told me that someone would be the bad guy and he’d chase everyone and then catch on fire and run around screaming.  I was so shocked!  Here I am thinking that these stupid school kids are corrupting my son.  Then my dad confessed that he was showing the boys his favorite car chase scene from Bullitt.  He forgot that at the end of the chase scene, the bad guys catch fire and are shown burning in their overturned car!  It was my kid that was corrupting the others!

I’ve always tried to protect my boys’ innocence.  Isaac and Asher both have struggled with fears in the past.  But I take those moments to either explain them away, or give them tools to calm their fears.  What do you think?  Should I just comfort them and hold them and tell them it will be okay?  Or should I tell them not to be afraid?

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