snow angels

ImageIt’s been too long since I’ve posted on this blog. But today I feel compelled to do so. You see, I live in Atlanta. Well, to be technical, I live in a northern suburb of Atlanta in a city called Alpharetta. I’m sure this week you’ve heard talk of the distinction. Either way, as a resident of the greater Atlanta metro area, I experienced the big snow event of 2014. Now I will be up front by saying I was extremely fortunate. My husband, who travels a great deal for work, was miraculously working from home on Tuesday. Our 3 year old was home too. So our biggest stress was waiting for the bus to bring our kindergartner home when schools let out an hour early. Being not much more than a mile away, she arrived right around when she would on a normal day.

When he dropped her off, the bus driver warned us to be careful, that he’d already slid a bit coming into our neighborhood. That was before 3pm.

There is much to say about what happened this week. Accusations are flying. People are angry, frustrated, and exhausted. I myself am less than pleased with our school system’s delay in letting our children out. There are certainly lessons to be learned from this one. But at the end of the day, snow here is just not the norm. We are ill-equipped. But plenty of people have posted about that.

What I want to share is something I see as worth remembering. And that is the way the people of our city reached out and wrapped their arms around those in need. And there were many in need. The stories of our own friends and family are so numerous I certainly cannot mention them individually. But what I witnessed on social media through the evening and overnight Tuesday into Wednesday was truly the gathering of an angel army.

There’s the friend with the 4X4 who drove through the northern suburbs helping the stranded get home until well past midnight while his wife coordinated rides through Facebook. There’s the stores and institutions who opened their doors to the weary. And countless citizens reached out with assistance like warm homes and a meal. Someone would post where they were, and someone would comment with a home that was willing to take them. Before we knew it, SnowedOutAtlanta was born. Look it up on Facebook. The stories people are telling in the aftermath are simply amazing.

Then there were the stranded. People, including my husband’s own brother, abandoned their cars and walked in the snow to reach their loved ones or a place to sleep. In some cases, these journeys were miles long, taking hours to complete in inadequate footwear. My church gave one of our dear friends a place to warm up and grab a cup of coffee late at night. He kept going, but many stayed until morning. In all, they helped over 200.

This is a metro area of 6 million plus. The stories go on and on. I only know a fraction. But the fraction I do know shows me something.

Tuesday morning, January 28th, 2014, I wrote in my journal before the snow started. Here’s my exact entry:

“I will have trouble in this world. From big storms to bad moods. I must rely on and trust God with each moment. Jesus Calling (by Sarah Young) from January 26th ended with “I (God) am much less interested in right circumstances than in right responses to whatever comes your way.” Wow. Perhaps I should spend less time praying for outcomes and situations and more time praying for my attitude and reactions.”

A few hours later, the people of Atlanta reacted. My fellow Atlantans showed me that, despite the circumstances, their responses were right. My oldest daughter knows that her best friend from school had to walk home in the snow for miles with her mother. Her mother teaches at my daughter’s school but lives in another of our many small cities on the outskirts of Atlanta. But AP doesn’t really understand what that felt like. And she doesn’t understand how the countless people who asked if they could help along their way warmed their hearts and gave them the strength to go on.

That’s the story I’ll tell when she remembers what happened. When she talks about the time she got out of school early and waited extra long for the bus. I’ll tell of the teachers who waited to make sure she was safe. Of those who spent the night with students whose parents were stranded. Of the countless people who did what they could and gave what they had.

I’ll tell of a city whose residents practiced pure religion. Not a mantra, not an agenda. Just pure religion. Caring for those in need. It’s in the Bible. James 1:27. Pure religion is this. Look it up. That’s what happened in Atlanta this week. This week, we weren’t just a disjointed, sprawling metropolis with a transportation problem. We were a city united in caring for each other. It’s one week we’re not soon to forget.

world view

photo(15)The other day, a friend of mine who is co-founder of an amazing blog, Grace for Moms, posted about opening our children‘s hearts to the world. I was grateful for the article and loved Jessica’s ideas. It’s so easy raising children in affluence to forget about how the rest of the world lives. When we’re not doing all of the things that our daily life demands, we as parents worry about things like class placement and test scores, our children fitting in and being involved in the right activities. I’m not saying these preoccupations are bad. We all want the best for our family. I just believe that exposing our children to what’s happening in the rest of the world is also part of our role as parents.

I know that I often refer to my own mission experiences in developing countries when on this topic. To be fair, I realize this provides a whole different dynamic to the conversations I have with my children. I do say that I highly recommend doing something similar if the opportunity comes along. My devotion to raising grateful, global children is in large part due to my involvement in other countries. But there are ways to reach out without leaving your native soil.

Just the other day, AP had one of her kindergarten classmates over to play. They had stools pulled up to the counter while we baked together. Her friend turned to the side of the refrigerator and asked “Who’s that?”

AP looked at the refrigerator, glancing at the picture of herself in a swing with her Daddy at 10 months old. “Oh that’s me as a baby.”

“No, him.” Her friend pointed to a photo of a beautiful Kenyan girl with a shaved head, smiling from ear to ear.

“Oh, her?” AP replied. “That’s Mary.”

“Who’s Mary?” her friend asked.

“She’s our friend.”

I went on to explain about Mary, that she lives in Africa and we help her to have a good place to live and to attend school. Then the girls moved on. But I was left to digest the conversation. The nonchalance with which AP responded made me realize that including Mary in our lives is integrated into my young girl’s world.

KP and I began sponsoring Mary before AP was even born. She’s always seen the latest picture of her on the refrigerator. Now that she’s older, she draws her pictures and writes her notes when we send care packages. For AP, she is just part of our lives. She is not unlike our family and friends who live in other states. There is no denying the deep chasms that separate Mary’s world from our own. AP will learn those over time. But I hope she will know that just because she was born here and Mary there doesn’t mean Mary shouldn’t have the same opportunities she does. Opportunities like the right to a safe home and the chance to get an education.

You hear again and again that our children are watching us. So try bringing opportunities for world outreach home . Check out Jessica’s ideas here.

If we show that we care about the world, our children will do as we do. They will learn that, inherently, we are all the same. As adults they will believe this. And, as their hearts yearn for change, they will make it happen.

bruno and toast

ImageLast week an amazing thing happened. My 3 year old said “Buenos Dias.” I was busy doing something, and I whipped my head around.

“What did you say?”

“Buenos Dias” she repeated. “It’s what I say in school. It’s good morning!”

I grabbed her up in my arms and told her that she was right.

This year, her preschool introduced Spanish into the curriculum for the first time. The language is integrated into the lessons so as she learns her colors, shapes and other fundamental concepts, she learns them in Spanish too.

I began asking her more from the list of words I know she’s learning.

“How do you say one in Spanish?”

“Bruno!”

I laughed. “Uno.”

“Yeah, uno.”

Then I asked her about the number two.

“Toast!”

So it’s not perfect. But she is absorbing it.

Up until the age of 8, a window is open which makes learning a second language easier than at any other time in a child’s life. My husband and I decided we shouldn’t let this time slip away. We discussed putting AP, our 5 year old, in Spanish classes. Once we learned that MP would have them in school, we got into gear.

Unfortunately, public elementary school in our county does not incorporate foreign language into their curriculum. Of course, they offer it in high school when the learning window is already closed. While it’s true that many of the private schools do offer instruction in a second language, there’s always a solution. Once a week, AP can take lessons at her school with an outside company. I just pick her up a bit later than normal. She too started last week.

Over the weekend, we overheard our girls comparing the words they each knew. They asked us repeatedly how to say other words and phrases in Spanish. We were thrilled.

There are so many advantages to being bilingual, from increased performance in all academics to better understanding a new culture. It also opens the door for global career opportunities in the future.

But I believe it goes beyond the obvious. I think it is a humbling experience, one that shows the student that there is much in the world they’ve yet to learn.  It can provide confidence and willingness to step out into the unknown. It also bridges unnecessary divides through the simple use of words.

Our hope is that it prepares our children for a lifetime of embracing differences. That it allows them to explore our amazing world with confidence and respect.

Those are big dreams, of course.

Yet if we are to raise children in today’s increasingly global world, we have to start somewhere.

At the very least, it never hurts to be able to say a small greeting in a language new to you, yet comforting to another. So, Buenos Dias, MP. Buenos Dias.

we remember

ImageThis morning, I woke up in one of the tallest buildings in Atlanta. My husband and I attended a concert in a downtown park last night. With an early morning flight to catch, we decided to get a hotel in the city. With my love on a plane and a view of the surrounding city, remembering 9/11 today seems especially poignant.

Twelve years. It’s hard to believe it’s been that long. It seems like yesterday that I stood in my office with my coworkers. Since we were a post production house, we had our share of televisions. We stood around the biggest one, in the workplace “living room”. As the minutes turned into hours, we sat together, glued to history unfolding before us. We never worked that day. Eventually, we all left and went home to our families. For me, that meant heading straight to my boyfriend’s apartment. I don’t even remember much of that evening. We just wanted to be together. I went home that night scared and afraid and shocked like so many of us.

Like many couples, said boyfriend and I got engaged that next year. There was a spike in marriages and babies following 9/11, as people sought to rebuild from our very foundations. Twelve years later, KP and I have a family of four.

Each year since, we pause to remember. We remember the lives lost, the innocent people who didn’t deserve that kind of death. We remember the first responders, heroes who did what they were trained to do and by paying the ultimate price saved many. We remember that there is misguided hate in this world, people who believe in a cause bred from evil.
KP and I have two daughters growing up in a post-9/11 world. Twelve years later, what does that mean? How do we teach our children to remember an event they weren’t born for?

I am personally not ready to explain to my 5 and 3 year old what actually happened 12 years ago. Especially when their father is on a plane and in big cities practically every week. They still live in a place where nearly every adult they encounter is kind and loving to them. Thankfully, they don’t even realize that kind of evil exists.

So instead, my plan is twofold: I will exercise my freedom and I will promote acceptance.

I will show my daughters what it is to live in this great country. After school today, we will get our flu shots. I will explain to them that not everyone in the world can just walk in to a clean, quality healthcare facility. That preventative care is an added bonus. We will then attend Wednesday evening activities at our church where they can freely study and worship God. Where their mother will attend a council meeting and teach the Bible. And that’s just today. Every day, we have freedoms so many in our world don’t. I will work to share those with my girls in ways they can understand.

I will teach them to embrace differences. As I foster a firm foundation in what they believe and what they support, I will continually encourage them to learn more about what they don’t know. From different cultures to different religions, I want to raise children that are open and accepting of others. This begins with exposing them to that which varies from their norm. So we will try new foods, new customs. We will step outside the routine.

Baby steps now will lead to greater strides later. And when they do learn about what really happened that day twelve years ago, they will have a mindset that will allow them to promote peace.

In remembrance of all who were lost on September 11, 2001.

rain rain you can stay

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This Labor Day, we woke to rain. Taking the family to the pool was out. So was the park. We were tempted to use the morning to do long neglected chores. But this wasn’t just our day off. It was AP and MP’s day too. So we declared our very first Family Fun Day.

 I thought fast and decided bowling was just the thing. Neither of our children had ever been, so we had the excitement of something new. Plus we had a coupon.

We set off in the rain, commenting on how empty the roads were. So was the bowling alley. When we arrived at 10:30am there were only a handful of other families there. We paid, picked up our shoes, and got started.

 The kids proceeded to have a blast. So did we for that matter. We laughed, we cheered each other on, and we encouraged each other when we missed. It was a sort of milestone in our family; an activity we could all enjoy. At 3, MP is finally old enough to really join in. By the time her attention span wore off, the place was packed with other families having fun too.

 After KP beat us all, we headed down the street for burgers and shakes. We really try to eat healthy in our household. But this was Family Fun Day, so salads and smoothies were out. The kids protested a bit, crying for the ever-popular chicken establishment that all southerners readily patronize. You know, the one that uses cows in their advertising and isn’t open on Sundays? But we explained that Family Fun Day meant adventure.

 Lunch was just as much fun. The kids each got enormous shakes, which meant yours truly got a chance to divulge in two different flavors. Burgers and fries all around and we had a happy crowd.

 As our meal came to a close, AP said something that resonated. She thanked us for the day, saying that because she’s in school now she doesn’t always get to do things like this; such wise words from a seasoned kindergartner. She said how much she loved Family Fun Day. KP joked that we should record her for future reference. It’s true that they may not always love family activities. But I sat across from this grateful, glowing child and realized that choosing them over everything else was the best thing we did all week.

 After paying the bill, we ran for the car, raindrops falling from the sky. But the weather didn’t dampen our spirits. We were all laughing. We were all thankful for the time together. Bowling and burgers. Who knew.

 

up up and away

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This week, my youngest started preschool. All along, I haven’t thought twice about it. She was, after all, in an early learning program located on the first floor of the school for the past two years. But when I dropped her the first day, I was really sad. When we arrived, she begged me to pick her up. I was firmly against it.

“No Mommies or Daddies are carrying the kids going upstairs.”

Downstairs is now a thing of the past for our family. Everyone is headed up.

I think walking MP up those stairs reminded me that we, as parents, are constantly helping our kids up: up the stairs to the “big kid classrooms”, up a grade, up a shoe size. Then they grow up, and we send them out. Out into the world to serve the next generation.

So as our time and our influence on them shrinks, how do we make the most of the time we have together?

I have the true privilege of raising two amazing daughters as well as working with an incredible group of young women at my church. I like to think I have a three year old, a five year old, and a dozen 16 year olds. I see how the girls relate with their mothers and I know the days of holding mine on my lap and kissing them too many times won’t last forever. I do see some great relationships between them and their parents. But I also see the attempts to break free. The time to send them out is close at hand.

However, there are some basic things I work at that I believe will prepare my children (and myself) for the next step. Please note, I am not an expert on this subject, nor do I actually put all of these into practice as I regularly as I should. Yet no matter where we are on the parenting train, I think they are worth a try.

Practice what you preach. There’s no better time to give this a whirl than immediately. Whether your child is 5 or 15, they are watching your every move. If you expect it of your child, the least you can do is practice it yourself.

Put away your phone. Now, trust me, I’m just as guilty as the next parent about this. The new world of constant communication puts a real strain on family relationships. But once your children have their own handheld connection to the outside world, they will do like you do.

Don’t lose sight of who you are. Don’t drop your life for your child. KP and I were just talking the other day about how our entire world and life focus honed in on our firstborn the moment we laid eyes on her. All affection, including for each other, was pulled toward that soft bundle. It was actually quite a bit of work to get straight. But we did. We have a life outside of raising our children. We are convinced it’s beneficial for everyone.

Establish communication habits early (But it’s never too late!) Find a way to make communication between family members a priority. At our house, we have a nightly ritual of high’s and low’s. We go around each tell the best part of our day, the worst, and we throw in a silly for good measure. Sometimes this is at dinner, sometimes in the car on the way home from somewhere. For KP, it often involves him on FaceTime from some other city. But we do it.  By now, our three year old has the hang of what is a high and what is a low. No one says communicating is easy. But if you listen to the small stories now you’ll be rewarded with the big ones later. And if your kids are older and communication is nil, start small. Better than not starting at all.

Have fun! This seems easy enough. But with to-do’s mounting around you, sometimes the last thing you can imagine is stopping everything to play. Or just to talk. Do it. Find a balance, mind you. But do it. Cheese and crackers (with a healthy side of fruits and vegetables) can make a great dinner. And then you have time to watch your child ride his bike or read just one more book together.

Don’t fear letting go. Oh boy. One day, sooner for some, our children go from up to (gulp) out. That’s right. This whole parenting thing has an ultimate goal: to send capable, responsible people into the world. But sometimes parents, especially moms, lose sight of the goal. The child is too dear, the thought of letting go too painful. So we make decisions for them based on what is best for us. And in the process we hurt them. This is a fine line, and a hard one to walk. But we all do it. Which leads me to my last one…

Community. We cannot do this job alone. Nor were we meant to. So create a community for you and your children. Find a place or group of people where everyone feels safe. Where your children can turn when they inevitably decide you are definitely no longer cool. And where you can find support as well as learn from others. It isn’t a cure all, but it will help everyone keep things in perspective.

 This week, dropping off MP was hard. That one small act signified the end of an era. I took inventory of the last 5 plus years as a parent. Did I teach them enough? Did they learn enough? Did they have fun? Did I?

 This school year, I’m going to keep the list above. I’m going to reference it. I’m going to see how we do. Because the ups just keep on coming.