Saturday, April 23, 2011

Bunnies Are Not Meat

There are some mothers that guard their children's innocence like the precious, fleeting treasure it is. And then there are mother's like me, that crush it.

While pondering the anatomy of her stuffed rabbit one day,three-year-old Livie asked me why bunnies had such long ears. I told her it was so they could hear really, really well.

A week later, when we were bike riding past a local field where we always spot wild rabbits, she asked me why bunnies need to hear so well.

Now, I'd like to pause this story for a moment to mention that children always ask hard questions without warning, and when you are in the middle of doing something distracting, like driving. So if you're not quick thinking, you can really paint yourself into a corner in conversation with your kids. Like the time four-year old Sophia -- from the back seat -- said that as soon as her baby sister was born I would have two belly buttons, because babies come out of mommies' belly button, and you must therefore get a new one every time you give birth. Thoughtlessly, I said, "Babies don't come out of belly buttons." "Where they do they come out then, Mommy?" Walked right into that one.

So, back to the rabbit's ears. I'm peddling a 50-pound beach cruiser with a 40-pound toddler strapped on the back down a busy street, so please picture all this taking place with me sweating, and shouting into a headwind. The dialogue isn't verbatim, but really, really close.

"Bunnies have big ears so they can hear if another animal is sneaking up on them, Livie."

"What kind of an animal?"

"I don't know, like a coyote."

"Why would a coyote sneak up on a bunny?"

"Because coyotes eat bunnies, honey."

"What! Why?"

I start to realize this is going in a bad direction, yet still I press on. "Well, I guess they like the way bunny meat tastes."

"But bunnies aren't meat! They're animals."

Still not backing down, I say, "Well, meat comes from animals."

A glance back at my daughter shows she is truly shocked and horrified. As it dawns on me what I have done, I watch her face and body slowly relax as a comforting idea occurs to her. "So you're saying, Mommy, that if a coyote found a dead bunny in the grass, he would eat it?"

"Um. Yes. Yes, that's what I'm saying." Forget that this whole thing started because of bunnies and their 'ability to hear approaching predators. I was willing to accept this untruth to spackel over the small cracks I had just created in my daughters innocence. I've always been pretty committed to answering the kids' questions truthfully. They know the real names for all their body parts, for example, which has really created some interesting scenes in public places. But I wasn't prepared for this particular revelation and it's potential heart-breaking results.

This all occurred about a month ago and Liv hadn't mentioned the meat-animal connection sense, until today, when she was eating white cheddar cheese puffs that were labeled "Bunny Tails" for Easter. She suddenly paused mid chew to ask, "Did they have to kill a lot of bunnies to get these tails?"

Through our suppressed giggles, we assured her that the "Bunny Tails" had absolutely nothing to do with the actual furry animal. Now we just have to figure out what to do tomorrow when Grandma serves her lamb.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

The Perfect Day

Yesterday, my reality actually lined up with what I once imagined was the life of the stay-at-home mom. The dream scenario: fulfill my housewifely duties, meet my kids' emotional needs, foster their relationship with one another, play with them and get a little time for my own pet projects -- all in one day!

The day started with coffee (of course), updating our expenditures in the monthly budget (worst task ever) and a hot breakfast for the kids (homemade).
Then I built two -- that's right, two -- blanket forts in my living room, one for each daughter. Then my daughters, feeling loved and valued by their Mommy, actually played in their forts for long periods of time (see Livie, above, in hers under the stairs), taking breaks only to come out and play Legos with each other, nicely.

We had Trader Joe's decadent mac-n-cheese for lunch, and then made four dozen cinnamon-sugar Easter cookies, which we then frosted in pastel hues and topped with a variety of sprinkles. Somewhere in there, I dusted and vacuumed the whole house and swept the downstairs floor. I even wrote a blog entry, complete with photos (computer did not crash).

This day was atypical enough that I venture to call it miraculous. I think God must really like me. Several times over the last few weeks I read or heard someone talk about starting the day by giving God their to-do list to edit, allowing Him to restructure their priorities. Since all sources were women I respect and admire, I took the message to heart. For several days I've made time for reading a devotional (almost) the first thing in the morning, and certainly before I read any e-mails, go on facebook, or read or write any blogs.

I have felt a subtle shift in how my days are going ever since. A sense of calm, resulting from a reality check that I am trying to do too much, and often the wrong things, almost every single day.
So, my "perfect" day yesterday was born out of not only this spiritual discipline, but also the practical principle that if you do the most important things first (in this case it was the budget and the blanket forts, which were essentially putting my husband and my kids first), several other things will also fit into the day.

Now, hear me rightly: I don't believe Jesus is my magic geenie (thanks, Jen Hatmaker for that expression). Spending time talking to God in the a.m. isn't going to smooth out every rough edge of every day and miraculously extend every hour. But I took yesterday as God's loving whisper to me saying, "Get me a few minutes of your time, and watch what I can do with it." I think He might also have winked at me, if it's not sacriligious to think of the Almighty winking. It was His encouragement to me at the beginning of a new practice I'm bold enough to think pleases Him.

I believe I'm at the point where I want to seek God's in the Big Things in life. Should I work outside of the home or stay home with the kids? Where should I volunteer my time? What is my most important ministry at this point in my life? What kind of marriage do I want to have? Who are the people I should invest my time in? I seek His guidance in those things without question.

But do I want His will daily? Will I sacrifice my own agenda -- sometimes selfish, sometimes well-meaning -- in the small things? Which for the stay-at-home mom means things like shutting off the e-mail and leaving dishes in the sink to have a tea party (I know it sounds fun, but it's challenging day after day...) And do I believe He will be faithful to equip me daily, hourly, moment-by-moment to accomplish all the things that have to get done and be able to go to sleep feeling satisfied?

I'm willing to give it a try. Thanks for the wink, the message, and your grace, Lord. I'll see you tomorrow morning.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Beauty School

When I was 13, my parents took our family on a mid-summer vacation to Sedona, Arizona. As we drove into the canyon, surrounded by the famous red, orange and pink rock formations, my mom was trying to coax my six year old brother to look out the window. But he was too busy drawing. Even my 12 year old brother and I joined in: “Come on, J, you gotta see these rocks! They’re amazing.”

“I’m not interested,” he said over and over again, without lifting his head from his crayons. Not once did he look out the window.

Such is the task of a mother sometimes, as she tries to expose her children to the things in this world that are worth being exposed to. Like my parents, I believe in showing my girls as much beauty as possible. This weekend we took them up to the Central Coast of California, a region awash in beauty. There are the shifting tides, creeping fogs, windblown dunes, and orange sunsets of Morro Bay; the twisted oaks and green hills of the Paso Robles wine country; the misty shores and convoluted pines of Baywood Park. And in spring, when the hills are velvety green and the wildflowers are blooming, there's a beautiful surprise literally blooming behind every rock and tree trunk. Jeff and I both went to Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, and we took the girls, along with his parents, to our campus Open House on Saturday. At the top of the campus is a breathtaking botanical garden; if you're ever in SLO in April, make sure you stop by. (Here we are in the South African section of the garden.)

But here's what I'm learning about kids -- or at least my kids. "Views" are lost on them. Sophia is about actively experiencing nature. Don't try to make her admire the panoramic bay from the top of the dunes! She wants to roll down them. Don't marvel over an ancient pine's configuration. She just wants to climb it. The stretch of beach and it's breakers? It's a place to collect shells, not to stand and admire. The botanical garden? Can we play tag here, or chase butterflies?

Meanwhile, Livie can marvel at creation, but only on a small scale. While we are enjoying the valley view and the Viognier at Oso Libre winery, she's petting Ruby, the winemaker's Australian Shepherd. While we're gazing at the volcanic peaks over Cal Poly's campus, she's petting the farm cat. Above Morro Bay on the rocky cliffs, she's searching for pine cones. On Moonstone Beach, she's creating a stick and rock garden in a driftwood fort. For Livie, nature has to be tiny, touchable and preferably able to come home in her pocket. Two days later, I'm still picking pebbles out of the lint trap in my dryer.

Jeff and I are learning to roll with it -- let them experience nature in their own way. I believe that all this exposure is training them to appreciate Creation -- which is a foundational way we experience God. My mother-in-law once told me that when one of her kids calls her to tell there’s a beautiful sunset happening, she feels like she’s done her job well. She and my father-in-law took their kids all over the place -- from Yellowstone to Hawaii to the local fabric shop – to show them to pretty things and spark their creative interests when they were kids. It worked. Jeff is an architect, painter, woodworker. One of his sisters is a landscape architect, avid baker and at-home cook. The other has studied art history, worked in interior design, and is currently a professional pastry chef.

And my little brother, the one too busy drawing to look out the window? He's a singer/songwriter, creating his own beauty from what he sees and experiences.

I'd be so thrilled to see my girls equally engaged in creative pursuits – whether professionally or in their personal life – because I think being creative also links us to our Creator. So look out the window, kiddos. Beauty school is in session.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Even My Toys Have Too Many Toys

This may come out sounding harsh, but none of my friends or relatives are ever allowed to buy my kids a stuffed animal again. Ever. I don't care how cute it is. I don't care how cheap it is. I don't care what holiday it's for. I don't care what charity it benefits. I don't even care how small it is.

If it has any of two of the following factors -- a face, artificial fur, bean stuffing, polyfill stuffing, whiskers, soft paws -- and comes into my house, it's out within 24 hours. Got that?

I have just staged a covert operation in my three year old's bedroom while she was distracted by her sister's doll house. Her stuffed animal collection was just reduced by one third. Then I snuck into my seven year old's room (it required less skill to get in there unnoticed, as she is at school), and did the same to hers. I was ruthless. First to go were any animals won at carnivals. Second were any given to them at garage sales by other desperate mothers trying to clean out their toy boxes. And finally, I steeled my heart and bagged just a few more, even if they were given by a beloved relative.

I still have 86 stuffed animals in my house. (Yes, I actually counted.)

What brought on the purge? First, besides the obvious fact that I can't close my kids closets, this morning Sophia had a mild meltdown. She received a new 18-inch doll for her birthday in February, and now is having a moral dilemma over the fact that her old doll has more stuff than the new doll. If she gives some of Eva's things (bean bag chair, laptop, Mary Janes) to Emma, will Eva feel bad? And will Emma feel bad that all her stuff is hand me downs?

I suggested two solutions to Sophia's problem. 1) That Emma get all the things Eva is tired of using, just like we gave Sophia's old stuff to her baby sister. Not good enough, Mommy.

So (2) Can we imagine that they were twins separated at birth and are so glad to now be reunited that they want to share everything equally? "What are you talking about, Mommy?"

At this point, I came up with solution 3, which was to remember that neither of these dolls has a brain and doesn't care anyway, now if you will excuse me, Mommy has to go make breakfast.

Scrambling eggs, I thought, Somewhere in the world there are children working in factories making the toys I will someday buy my children in a dollar bin. And upstairs in my house, my spoiled American daughter is in tears over how to distribute the wealth between inanimate objects. Her dolls own more than most people in this world.

So, change must come to my household. It's not Sophia's fault that she lives in America and has more stuff than she can manage. It's mine. I let it in here. I bought half of it. I meant well. But I must be more discerning. I can't keep buying stuff just to buy it, or because some holiday dictates I do so. In the trash bag hidden in my trunk right now there are also half the stocking stuffers I purchased less than six months ago at the 99-cent Store. And under my bed are still more little trinkets I bought for their Easter baskets. The jump ropes and bubbles can stay; all the other stuff is going back to Michael's.

My kids will always have more than they
need, and so will I. That is life in Middle Class America. But, God help me (and I mean this sincerely), I'm not going to have more stuff than I want.

Friday, April 1, 2011

There Are No White Poodles Here

I heard Kirstie Alley say something wise once. (I know, unlikely beginning...). I think she was speaking to Oprah about the way that people can pretend to share your interests and values early on in a relationship ("Oh, I love dogs too!"), but she's learned that it's actually pretty easy to tell whether they're telling the truth or not.

If you love dogs, you have dogs, she says. If you love to cook, you cook. If you really love kids, you've got some kids (infertility being an obvious reason that this might not always be true).

I've been thinking of this recently as my kids have become more interested in the idea of having a pet, and we've given them all the reasons that we won't get one -- not enough space, too great an expense, too much mess for me to clean up, too much responsibility for them at such a young age. And it made me realize, I am not a dog lover. A dog liker, yes. I can scratch ears and rub tummies with the best of them. But if I were truly a dog lover, I would have a dog by now. I know lots of people with less money, less space and/or younger children, and they have dogs. One friend in particular comes to mind, who lives in a tw0-bedroom yardless apartment with her husband, daughter, and two dogs, one of which is a German Shepherd.

Yesterday I was on a walk with one of my friends and we ran into a group of retirees that, among them, had at least half a dozen little white poofy dogs on leashes.

"Look, it's a little white poodle convention," I exclaimed to my daughter. One of the women turned the stink eye upon me and said, "There are no white poodles here."

"Oh," I said brightly, trying not to be intimidated by the stink eye, and maintain my light, neighborly tone. "What kinds of dogs are these?"

"These are Bichon Frises and Maltese," she said. I recognized the steely, measured tone in her voice. It was the same tone I used to use when people would point to my infant daughter, dressed all in pink, and ask me how old my son was. "She is six months old," I would reply.

Okay, it seems a little silly to me that my mistaking her dog's breed would elicit the same irritation I felt at a person mistaking my baby's gender. But that's because I am a baby -- and not a dog -- lover. Recently a childless friend's beautiful Golden Retriever startled me by licking me in my open mouth. I'm talking tongue to tongue contact here. I was slightly horrified. But the Golden's owner remarked, without a trace of irony, that at least it wasn't as gross as if my child had licked me in the mouth.

Now, my children have actually puked into my mouth. They have peed and pooped on me. My friends' kids have peed and pooped on me. My nieces have spit up on my good clothes more times than I can count. It didn't bother me nearly as much as that canine French kiss. In the reverse, my friend would be totally grossed out by sitting on my mac-and-cheese-smeared sofa even though he doesn't mind at all that he sits daily in dog hair. Isn't that interesting?

Recently I was chatting up one of the three year old boys who attends daycare in the house across the sidewalk from me, when my neighbor said, "You really love children, don't you?"

Hmm. It took me by surprise, because I had had a rough day, and at the moment didn't really like my children very much. But of course, he's absolutely right. Even when I was a child, I loved any kid smaller than me. I have cousins who were born when I was a teenager and I couldn't get enough of them. At my MOPS group, people are always making fun of me because I carry around other women's newborn babies all the time.

I've thought of both my neighbor's and Kirstie's comments a lot since. I really do love children. That's why I had some. Even though I was 26 and living in a yardless two-bedroom apartment, and I knew (at least partially) that kids would be expensive, messy and a huge responsibility -- way more than a dog -- I got pregnant on purpose! It's an obvious but profound thought to reflect on during the days when I'm tired of folding tiny pink clothes, sweeping up Cheerios or exasperated as I drag a writhing toddler across the street for school pick-up in 89-degree heat.

During the latter scenario, I've seen childless dog owners look at me in bewilderment, the way I have often looked at them when I see them pick up loose puppy stool in a blue plastic bag with their hand (their hand!!!). But on reflection, I see that we are really the same. We do it all for love.