Constant Repeated Training Required

This morning, I came across a blog from (gulp) over seven years ago, entitled “Training Required”. Written pre-homeschooling, when I was “almost 30”, and an extremely knowledgeable parent of a toddler and an infant. Ha-ha-ha!

Fast forward to today. My oldest just turned ten, the rugrats provide constant repeated growth opportunities, the “mommy/daughter cry for no reason” days have come far sooner than anticipated (so have the mommy/son waterworks — who knew that was a thing?) and there are still afternoons when I want to throw an epic toddler tantrum. I realize now more than ever that there is no “mature enough”, “stable enough” or “well trained enough” to have children. Never. Nope. Not gonna happen.

10 seconds after becoming a mother it dawned on me how little I knew about being a parent. Or so I thought. 10 years later, I’m still discovering how vast my ignorance really is. 10 years from now I could be a grandmother. Dear Father in Heaven, how is that possible?

Enjoy this trip to the past, I give you my mind in the magical year of 2009.

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I had an interesting conversation with my brother this weekend. He’s been talking to some folks at work who have passionate opinions on who should be allowed to “breed”. Apparently, the criteria goes something like this. You should be able to provide your children with “every opportunity”. You need training to be sure you’re capable of raising kids. Must have financial stability. Must be able to prove you are mature enough. On and on and on.

I have known plenty of people who have a similar take on being “allowed” to procreate. The funny thing is, most people who hold these views don’t have kids of their own. As such, they’ve got zero clue what having kids really means. I actually used to think along these same lines when it came to having kids. My oh my, how having some of your own changes your perspective.

First, the argument that you should provide your kids with “every opportunity”. It kind of goes hand in hand with the “financially stable” point. The basic principle here is fine – obviously every parent wants their kids to have the best shot at success in life. Good schools, the chance to excel at whatever gifting the child has (sports, art, music, drama, science, math…whatever), college if they so desire – and all that takes money. But the underlying problem with this argument is that it assumes some check-point in life when you’ll know you have the capability to provide your kids with these opportunities. Let’s be real here. If you decide to have kids today, it will be 4-6 years before your first child is ready to start exploring all the options life affords. How on earth do you know you’ll be in the same position that far into the future? If there’s anything to be learned from the financial turmoil of the past couple years, it’s that nothing is safe. There’s no guarantees. But, to me, the larger issue with these arguments is that it propagates the notion that somehow the most important things to provide for your children are things.

Yes, material things are important. But the basic necessities in life do not cost much – and just about any Joe (or Jane) with a job can provide food, clothing and shelter. All the other stuff is just that…stuff. There are far more important issues with kids than what “things” you can give them. Success does not equal money. I’d love to see parents become concerned with providing their kids opportunities to learn to be kind, giving, selfless, considerate, and polite – rather than opportunities to have the latest video game console, designer clothes and fancy cell-phones. Even more, how about showing children emotional stability over the financial kind? Too many children grow up in homes with every newest, latest and greatest – but never see their parents because they’re too busy earning all that money. No amount of stuff can make up for the loss of family. The time that flies by while trying to establish financial stability can’t be bought back. No matter how much cash you accumulate.

Now, how bout’ proving you’re mature enough to handle kids before getting to have them. Here’s a news flash for you – when I’m 75, I’ll let you know if I feel that I’ve matured enough to deal with kids on a daily basis. Nobody is grown up enough for kids. I don’t care what people tell you. When they place that baby in your arms for the first time, the second thought you have (right after the “He/she is the most perfect thing on earth”) is “Oh holy crap…I’m a parent. I’m not ready for this.” It is possible – if you are one of those uber-mature folks who waited until you were ready for kids to have them, that thought might not hit you until the first day you have the baby at home. I thought I was ready for kids. My husband and I had been married 5 years. We had a house and our cars were paid off. We’d made all our plans. Nothing prepares you for how much life changes after kids. Those of you reading this without kids – I know these words are pointless. You’ll get it when you have one.

I now have a two and a half year old and an infant. I’m almost thirty. Surely I should be mature enough now. However, there are days when I want to dissolve into a tantrum right along side my daughter. I’m sure when she’s a teenager we’ll have mommy/daughter cry-for-no-reason-at-all times. I have lost the expectation that I’ll ever feel prepared for life raising children. Parenting is a baptism by fire, on the job training kind of gig. Sometimes I realize that while I’m teaching my daughter about life, I’m re-learning what I thought life was about. Then I get all freaked out about learning from a two year old and need to take a little break.

Lastly, the ever popular “you should have to complete training before being allowed to breed”. Really? What would that class look like? I used to be a trainer…and would LOVE to see someone try and teach a bunch of childless people what kids are really like. Here are just some of the things my daughter and son have trained me on in the past three years – I’d like to hear how any class could have given me these lessons.

1. Poop does come out of just about any fabric.
2. What love really looks like.
3. A child never thinks their nose needs blowing.
4. Add 20 minutes to whatever time you think you need to leave.
5. My mom was right. About everything.
6. The new definition of a clean house.
7. Trying to get it done faster usually just complicates things.
8. The beauty of silence.
9. Twenty-four hours is not long enough to do it all – so pick the most important thing, and do it well.
10. Sleep is something you actually can function without.
11. There are no sick days for parents.
12. How to use my imagination.
13. The simplest things are often the best.
14. I can’t do it alone.
15. “Why?” Doesn’t really mean they want a reason.
16. Joy
17. I am stronger and weaker than I thought.
18. Pregnancy only feels like forever.
19. How God must feel about me.
20. How my parents must feel about me.

Bottom line. There’s no training that would ever be sufficient. No stability that is stable enough. Kids are an amazing blessing that cannot be compared to anything else in life. They will change your life forever – and you’ll realize how much you don’t know within the first 10 seconds of parenthood.

How Impressionism Revealed God’s Perspective

I recently traveled to Chicago to enhance my copiousness. Yes, that was a stated purpose of the training I received there. To grow my mind and experience an abundance of historical thinking. I love the saying “If you are the smartest person in the room, you’re in the wrong room.”, and try to model my relationships after that premise. I’m happiest when surrounded by those who enrich my thoughts and encourage me to develop big ideas. Never was this more true than during my time at CC’s Practicum Speaker Trainer Training. That’s training for those who will be training practicum speakers. A room full of CC folks with a passion for classical education, equipping others and public speaking. It was like returning to the mother ship. These were my people all the way down to our very core.

Intentionally, I scheduled my homeward flight for late in the evening, so I could traipse around Chicago for a day. My primary goal was to see The Art Institute of Chicago’s Impressionism wing. Specifically their room full of Monet. It just so happened my trip coincided with Chicago’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade and the dyeing of the river green. Not a deep natural forest green, but a bright psychedelic emerald. The garish color was mimicked all around me in thousands of people enjoying the celebratory mood of the day. They started partying around noon by 5pm had reached a fever pitch even my Uber driver was anxious to escape as he happily left the city to deposit my un-drunk self at the airport. Apparently I was the only sober fare he had all day.

St. Patrick's In Chicago

I’d rambled around the museum for almost two hours enjoying Greek, Roman, Modern and Ancient Indian art, but longing for Impressionists when I caught a glimpse out of the corner of my eye. Just the very edge of a painting hugging a corner two rooms away. I knew instantly it was Monet and proceeded to avoid group tours and step around slow-moving elderly in my haste to see the full painting.

As I stepped into the room, I was overcome with awe. A dozen masterpieces by the great French impressionist encircled me. There to be savored. As I moved around the perimeter, I looked at each painting twice. Once as close as I could muster (without a docent scolding me anyway) to see the smallest detail, then a few steps back to observe the painting in toto. As I repeated this process, my awe gave way to an emotion not easily described, but one which created in my soul a desire to sit and weep.

I am not a crier. Not at movies, Mother’s Day, loss, happiness, not for much of anything do I shed tears. As such, this overwhelming flood of sentiment disquieted me enough that I found a nearby bench and sat struggling to compose myself while gazing at Monet’s Water Lilies.

I lost my battle to hold back tears as I identified the root of my emotion. My eyes were suddenly opened to a little of God’s perspective. As I muddle through life, moving from the mundane of laundry, to the routine of homeschooling, groceries and dishes, I tend to become tunnel visioned. My world seems incredibly small most of the time. I’m just trying to get through the next task, whatever is the most pressing concern or need of those around me. Often, I can’t think past Tuesday to make plans for Friday. As my focus narrows, life becomes a Monet up close. It feels pointless, just a swirl of nothing layered over more meaningless smudges. Life going around again and again in a jumble of details, relationships and tasks, with no value, no broader purpose.

Monet Water Lilies Up Close
This is where I really lost it and became supremely grateful nobody from training was able to trek to the city with me. Although we get lost in the minutiae of daily life, that is not God’s perspective. In the midst of seeming chaos, of colors that appear misplaced, relationships that look a mess, unrest and disquiet in our souls, He sees the completed master work. Not a brush stroke is wasted or errant. Our lives are His to develop through dusk and light, vibrant color and shadow. Our Lord builds layers that bring out the perfect balanced harmony of the work He is faithful to complete in us. In this life, we see a smidge of nothingness, the tiniest sliver of the finished masterpiece. As the Bible says in 1 Corinthians 13:12 “For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.

As I managed to (finally) get a grip and head out of the room, I glanced back at the painting that first caught my attention and had another realization. If our lives encompass God’s creative genius, shouldn’t they shout His unmistakable composition in the same way Monet’s color and form drew me in from two rooms away? As Christians, our lives should be a demonstration of who the Lord is. His truth, grace, love, patience and gentleness should flow from the canvas of our soul. The mural of our being should be a reflection of The Great Artist who created us. Imperfect and flawed, we are a fallen jumble of brushstrokes when viewed up close, but a stunning expression of the Master’s hand with the proper perspective. His. Monet gave me a glimpse of that viewpoint, and I am eternally thankful.

Pit Stop Popsicle Shop

One of my greatest struggles is giving my kids the latitude to explore their own ideas…but I know it’s really beneficial for them to go from concept to reality. The process of questioning them, prodding them, and convincing them to think deeper about their ideas is exhausting. It’s so much easier to just tell them what to do, but I know helping them process their thoughts in a logical manner will translate into learning anything well. Last summer, they had a “brilliant idea” to earn money. They would collect sticks from around the neighborhood and then sell bundles of them for $20 each. Genius right? They were highly disappointed when folks weren’t eagerly flocking to the stick stand. I took this opportunity to teach them the beautiful concept of supply and demand as well as some basic capitalistic principles.

Pit Stop Popsicle Shop

First, I questioned them about what they get excited to buy when it’s hot out (as it was that week). I asked if sticks were helpful or useful, if $20 was a fair price that others would pay. I suggested selling something they personally would love, and for a price they’d be willing to pay. My munchkins put their heads together, and thus the Pit Stop Popsicle Shop adventure was born. Continue reading

Nature Sketchbook

“I do not know what I may appear to the world, but to myself I seem to have been only like a boy playing on the sea-shore, and diverting myself in now and then finding a smoother pebble or a prettier shell than ordinary, whilst the great ocean of truth lay all undiscovered before me.”
― Isaac Newton

Nature Sketching

There is truth and beauty surrounding us in nature if we only take the time to observe it. The pace of life often leaves us in a whirlwind of schedules, appointments, errands and meetings, leaving little room for scrutiny and delight of the magnificent world encircling us. Continue reading

No One Like You

In the crowding darkness of sleepy bedtime, with heavily lidded eyes drifting to dreamland, my mother’s voice beckoned slumber with this song. I’ve  continued the tradition with my own kids from their infancy. It is the most requested lullaby at in our home, beating out Mary Poppins classics “Tuppence a Bag” (feed the birds) and “Stay Awake” for top honors. My children have yet to recognize that voice is a pale wisp compared to Julie Andrews. It’s going to be a sad day when they no longer shower me with “Mommy, you sound just like Mary Poppins” compliments at the conclusion of their bedtime songs. Continue reading

Caught up in Contagious Joy

I began a new book this week that, given the first chapter, I know is going to be phenomenal. Just a quick post to share a brilliant quote from it.

Exuberance – The Passion for Life
by Kay Redfield Jamison

“We have given sorrow many words, but a passion for life few.

Yet it is the infectious energies of exuberance that proclaim and disperse much of what is marvelous in life. Exuberance carries us places we would not otherwise go — across the savannah, to the moon, into imagination — and if we ourselves are not so exuberant we will, caught up in the contagious joy of those who are, be inclined collectively to go yonder. By its pleasures, exuberance lures us from our common places and quieter moods; and — after the victory, the harvest, the discovery of a new idea or an unfamiliar place — it gives ascendant reason to venture forth all over again. Delight is its own reward, adventure its own pleasure.”

Doesn’t that set fire to your soul and send a shiver of anticipation down your spine? This is what I want out of life. What I strive for. To bring exuberance and passion to the everyday mundane moments of life. Go out and have a day filled with irrepressible exuberance!