Friday, January 13, 2017

The thoughts that Noah elicit...

It's 6:30 am and I should not be sitting here writing.

I should be getting ready for the day and packing lunches and wrapping birthday gifts for Noah. The kids will be up soon and then it's a mad-dash to make it to school on time and then the entire day will unfold like a 10K race for time.

But my totally unorganized and rambling thoughts about Noah compel me to write.

He is a mystery to me. A lovely mystery...and often a monstrous mystery.

A boy on his long-awaited birthday - a real big kid now.

Judah is my inner child. Everything he does and says and the tears behind his eyes reflect everything I have always felt in my own heart. There is no mystery there - only deep, deep understanding.

But Noah is unlike me, utterly.

Lately he has been responding to my unwanted requests and commands with - Why does it always have to be YOUR way?! It shouldn't always be YOUR way! You always get YOUR way!!!

Already he is thoroughly proficient at challenging my authority.

And every single time I cross his will (which is like 103 times a day) he responds vindictively with - When I grow up, there will be no grandmas allowed in my house! (Because he assumes I will be a grandmother).

And yet, his childish faith cuts me to my cynical core. Shames me for my hypocrisy. Exposes too much of my unbelief.

Today is his 4th birthday and he said he's glad to turn one year older - so I'm closer to being a grandpa. And then I'll die. And then I'll be in God's new world!

Noah often says - Let's talk about God's new world! - and answers almost every future looking question with - I want to go to God's new world.

And he asks me about his body v. his soul. And about the robbers that died on each side of Christ. And he marvels that almighty God could be incarnate as the least of these. And he makes me say things that sound ridiculous to my modern, culturally-assimilated ears.

Things I'm embarrassed to say in polite liberal company.

And then make me embarrassed by my embarrassment.

Which keeps me in the only good and safe posture I know - repentance.

Friday, December 30, 2016

Momiversity: Why Diets Make Us Fat

If you are like most Americans, December 31st becomes the day you re-commit to a diet.


Instead, commit to reading this book by neuroscientist Sandra Aamodt that just came out in 2016.

She writes in an easy, accessible style about the science behind why dieting is actually counter-productive. She explores cultural values of body image and also delves into her own personal backstory of constant extreme dieting and how she finally freed herself from that, ironically as part of a New Year's resolution NOT to diet in 2010. (Just to clarify, she does promote eating healthy and exercise. She uses the term "diet" to mean drastic reduction in calories for the sole purpose of losing weight).

Her pitch is this, in a nutshell - your body has a metabolic set-point within a 10-15 pound range. If you starve yourself to lose a lot of weight, your body will just lower your metabolism to quickly pack on the pounds again. Conversely, if you over-eat and put on a lot of weight, your body will raise your metabolism to get you back to your original weight.

BUT...if you are over-weight for a very long time, your metabolic set-point resets itself to that higher weight, sadly. Thus, you should try your best not to over-eat.

And if you plunge into an extreme diet and lose a ton of weight (a la Biggest Losers on the reality show), you will be fighting your metabolism and brain chemistry tooth and nail to try to maintain your loss, and ultimately, you will lose. Maybe you will "keep it off" for 6 months, or if you're ultra-disciplined, 6 years, but eventually, you will lose. And you'll find yourself on that horrible roller coaster well-known to all dieters, yo-yo-ing back and forth and perpetually trying to lose that last 20 pounds. Starving, binging, starving, binging, starving, binging...all the while shooting your metabolism to hell.

My favorite part of the book is when she writes about how girls on the island of Fiji got brainwashed into thinking that being thin is good. Traditionally, Fijian culture valued being thick and saying "you've lost weight" is a major insult. But as soon as they started watching Western TV shows in the early 90's (like Baywatch and Beverly Hills 90210) that all changed.

Now there are very high instances of eating disorders among Fiji girls, the first ever to occur in their society. The NYT wrote about it here: Study Finds TV Alters Fiji Girls View of Body

So what about us, on the great island of the Americas? Maybe it's time to get "un-brainwashed" and question our cultural aesthetic norms. Maybe some of us were made to be thicker and some were not. In the animal kingdom, variety of adiposity abounds (think: giraffes v. hippos). Why not for people groups?

There is a new movement that is trying to shatter the assumption that Fat = Unhealthy. Indeed studies have shown that "over-weight" people who eat well and exercise regularly can be much healthier than thin people who don't.

So let's just try to take good care of ourselves, without regard to our clothing size. Be good to your body and let the chips fall where they may, when it comes to the number on the scale.

It may be too late for some of us, steeped in the lore of Baywatch and 90210...but parents and aunts and uncles, let's at least try to save the children.

Our girls are watching us.

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Surprised by Joy

Well, that most heralded of holidays has come and gone.

By Dec. 3rd, the kids had already littered the tree with their homemade presents.

There is so much anticipation and lead-up and preparation for Christmas Day it almost feels like you've lost a loved one the day it's over. Actually, you probably have since many loved ones travel to be together for that one time of year.

So lucky to have these wonderful aunties and uncles (and little cousin) in our lives!

My entire life history of Christmas has been more humbug than falalala, with massive feelings of let down every year on that long awaited day, particularly after the gifts have been opened. I'm not sure why. Was I subconsciously hoping to unwrap something marvelous...far more marvelous than a reasonable amount of money could buy...?

Judah was extraordinarily proud of his first "gingerbread house"

But seriously, you can literally go through my back log of Christmas post-mortem posts and witness the gloom analysis each year, without fail.

Until now, that is.

For some strange reason, that inevitable mild depression never materialized this year. Christmas was finally...not a disappointment!

Noah was extraordinarily proud of his lipstick red Rudolph nose

I guess it takes until you're in your late thirties to finally, finally, FINALLY get a good grip on reality. And to accept it...and even muster up gratitude.

The gingerbread cookie tradition continues...note to self - must ban sprinkles for next year.

Maybe being a mom for six years has finally helped me lower my expectations enough such that any day in which I'm not driven mad by 6+ hours of nonconsecutive crying and demanding that my tired bones hold a 25+ pound clinging toddler is considered a gosh darn day.

So even though we were all sick and didn't eat any fabulous feasts or engage in any particularly festive activities, it was enough. It was more than enough.

The Christmas Day hike tradition also continues, thank you sunny California!

We were together and we love one another.

The gifts each kid chose for the other - spot on!

And a baby was born to make healing flow far as the curse is found.

And perhaps most salient, no one needs to nap, nurse, or wear diapers any more.

Life just doesn't get any better than that.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Dear Santa

This note cracks me up on so many levels.

First, the grammar and spelling errors. Laundry is spelled "lojry" and Judah likes to invert his b's and d's so he asked for a "rodot" hahahahaha.

Also, what the heck is going on with the first letter of your last name? Lower case AND inverted.

I love how at the end of the letter, he tells Santa to "chos onw" - a very humble request to 'choose one' toy since asking for more than one is clearly too bold.

It also cracks me up how he claims to help me with laundry. That kid has folded maybe 3 hand towels in his ENTIRE life and sorted 6 socks into the right pile - 6 individual socks, mind you, not pairs. If this puts you on the "good" list, then I'm set for life after just a single day of housework.

Lastly, it's funny to me that Judah wrote this all while not believing in Santa. Since he was about 2, he asked if Santa was real and we just didn't have the heart to lie to him in the name of fun. So he wrote this for me. Knowing that I know how little laundry he actually does. Bold.

Oh my dear child. Your entire Christmas experience is unmerited grace, however blind you are to it. Indeed, your whole life. Indeed, mine.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

How do you solve a problem like Noah?

Noah is my problem child.

Okay, so this photo is totally staged, but it gets my point across pretty effectively.

In absolute terms, I guess Noah is just your average naughty kid, but in comparison with his older brother, Noah is like the devil.

Sure Judah was a colicky fussy baby, but ever since he turned 3.5 he magically morphed into an angel child. All the opposition and annoying whining truly was just a toddler phase that he grew out of. And even when he was in the midst of the terrible two's his meltdowns were pretty minor.

I would have never appreciated how easy-going and truly eager to please Judah is without the foil of his devil brother. Judah, in his heart of hearts, in the very core of who he is, truly just wants to be a good person and for everyone to be happy. He is goodness personified, people-pleasing to a fault, and the epitome of cooperation. Which is not to say he doesn't have his own moral flaws - he absolutely does - but none of them make me tense up in stress and pull my hair out in frustration by 9:30 AM.

Noah on the other hand...

Noah will turn 4 in January and it is abundantly clear that his annoying whining and opposition is not going away. This isn't a phase, it's just him.

He behaves so disobediently it even makes Judah suck in his breath with disbelief and awe. Almost as soon as I issue a command - Noah don't stand up on your chair - he has to do the exact opposite.

To gently correct him - Noah, don't color on your brother's homework - is to invite him to hurl verbal and emotional abuse upon you - You're so mean mommy! You make me sad! I'm going to be sad forever! You can't come in my room anymore! You can't come to my birthday party! You're the meanest mom ever! And the comment he thinks will hurt me the most - No more hugs and kisses for you!!!

Once I told him that we were out of the granola bars he wanted and he had these colorful remarks to say - I'm so mad at you mommy! I'm going to cut your head off! I'm going to get the big scissors, the one you keep in the special drawer that we're not supposed to play with - the big scissors - not the little ones that you let us use. And I'm going to hold them the safe way, by the handle, not by the sharp part, the safe way like daddy showed us. And cut your head off with the sharp part!

It was not unlike how a serial murderer might meticulously plot to skin his victims and sew a coat with them...

But on a brighter note, I'm so glad he listens when we talk to him about safely handling sharp objects!

But beyond his hair trigger anger, he also delights in dirty jokes. Judah never cared for 'potty-mouth' language but Noah lets it rip all the time and soon the two of them descend into the most annoying silliness. It's literally just them repeating to each other words like:

Poopy-lon hahahahahahahaha
Buttcheek hahahahahahahahaha
Poopy baby hahahahahahaha
Boobs hahahahahahaha
literally, ad nauseum (my nauseum)

Noah begged me to take a picture of this in RiteAid

Noah even goes as far as drawing boobs and butts all over the place. They both look like two tangential circles, but you know it's a butt if it has a dribble of poop coming out of the middle. He once painted some giant ones on his art easel and told me to hang it up in the house. I politely declined.

So last night, as we were snuggling before bedtime, I decided to have a heart-to-heart talk with him about his rampant disobedience.

Noah, you make Mommy so sad when you disobey me. You need to work on obeying your parents.

Noah burst into tears and instantly accused us of not loving him and rejecting him and even said that we think his name is stupid (we've often said that it's a common name, unlike his brother's more rare name). All his insecurities gushed out in a flood of angry fear.

I tried to reassure him that we love him unconditionally and that we all have areas that need work. And again it amazed me how non-intuitive grace and unconditional acceptance really is.

This morning on our drive to preschool, Noah told me how he really does want to obey us more. He wanted it so much that he prayed about it on the spot:

Dear God, Please help me obey my parents. And when they tell me 'no' help me to accept it. In Jesus name, Amen.

If ever there was a prayer that was heard, I hope it was that.

Indeed, it is the very baby-step, tiny seed evidence of it.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Thankful It's Over

Last week, the week of Thanksgiving, the kids had the entire week off school. I had been bracing myself for too-much-time-with-the-kids burn out, but was pleasantly surprised it never really happened.

Usually, if I'm alone with the kids for 2 days, I'm burnt toast. But this week we had lots of fun play dates and parties to attend so the kids and I had lots of good breathing space away from each other.

This is something I never realized until I had kids - interacting with them too much is a BIG problem. It never occurred to me that being with a 3 year old for more than 5 hours a day would make me loose my mind - until I did.


Because their attention span is like a gnat's.
Because they can't do a single thing for themselves.
Because they are prone to melting down (when hungry, when tired, when over-stimulated, when under-stimulated, when told 'no', as in, no you can't run around with a knife, no you can't eat candy for breakfast, no you can't go outside without pants, etc.)
Because their idea of fun is mind-numbingly boring to an adult.
Because, I've been told, they ask 386 questions a day on average.

This guy - like so many things in life - only good in moderation

So instead of getting annoyed at each other, we did the following:

Took walks when it wasn't raining. There's nothing more therapeutic for kids (and probably adults) than to be in the great outdoors.

Judah is inspired to take a photo on the edge of glory

Ran errands whilst looking like weirdos and freaking out checkout cashiers.

The Trader Bros strike again

Had some great play dates at friend's homes. This one in particular had some epic hot chocolate marshmallows.

Never so thankful for friends as on Thanksgiving break!

Had some great cousin time. Is it just me, or do all cousins get along terrifically know...DNA?

Happy goofiness, it's in our genes

And of course, decorated for Christmas - the most wonderful time of year...

But something I'm totally dreading as the kids both have 2.5 weeks off school. O Lord have mercy.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

His Voice

As a mom, I've learned to live in two distinct time zones at all times - the present, and the faraway future.

In the land of faraway future, I view everything my kids are doing through a lens of being an old lady squinting at photographs, reminiscing about what they used to do. And feeling like my heart is being ripped out of my chest with longing.

One day I'll look back on this picture and bawl my eyes out.

I know this feeling because I already do it with pictures of baby Judah. Six years ago I held this colicky, fussy infant in my arms and cursed the heavens often. But when I look back on those pictures, I'm filled with wistfulness...though I definitely wouldn't choose to go back in time.

So because of this double-vision living, I already know that one of things I'll miss the most, is Noah's voice.

I really can't explain the allure of it. But even Judah will sometimes stop in the middle of conversation and exclaim, "Noah, I just love the way you say that word! It's so cute. Say it again."

Noah's voice is intoxicating because he talks with the grammar and vocabulary of a much older child but in the babyish voice of a much younger child. Often strangers can not make out what he's saying at all, so gibberish sounding is his little voice.

But what makes it even more delicious, is the weird and wonderful content of his speech. Some of my favorites:

To express that something is exactly the same (like I gave him and Judah the exact same amount and color of M&M's because I'm totally pwned like that) he'll sing-say:
Same, same
Double same!

He likes to spell out words so he often calls me:
And I have to respond to him with:
Double U-Aych-Ay-Tee, En-Oh-Ay-Aych?

I also love when he adds a "second verse" to songs. For example, he likes the "bad boys" song that he picked up from Judah - Bad boys, bad boys, watcha gonna do when they come for you?

His new verse goes - Good girls, good girls, watch gonna do when you go to church?


Pastor's kid.

And then there's just delightful displays of the wonderful and weird logic of a child, like when he mused to himself in the middle of washing his hands one day, in a pensive voice:
Mommy, mommy, your penis is a vagina...
But our butts are the same!

Hmmmm...indeed they are, my love.

Not sure if I'll be cherishing that thought for years to come.

Tuesday, November 08, 2016

Life, hurtling toward the end

Every year around this time I realize I've entered the outer limits of a vortex of crazy.

With Thanksgiving right around the corner (shockingly near actually), I start to panic about the 2.5 weeks of vacation my kids will both be having from school over Christmas. WHAT ARE WE GOING TO DO?! I'M SO SCREWED!

And then there's all the end of year stuff that needs to get done - gift buying, party attending, party planning and throwing, decorating, Christmas card sending, calendar making, etc. etc. etc.

Actually, the panic starts to set in around Halloween, which came and went so quickly I forgot to blog about it.

So from here until 2017, I'm pretty sure every post will just be like this - photo dump with longish captions!

(1) Noah in front of his preschool. This school has saved my life. So much better than the nightmare place he was at last year (that changed his teacher FOUR TIMES in the course of 9 months).

(2) Oh how I love when my kids bring home holiday-themed art and crafts. Except for that ugly troll mask Noah insisted I put up along with the other tasteful items. I really can't be blamed for any decor decisions whilst having kids.

(3) The witch, black panther, and Chris Kratt turned into a cheetah with creature power. I know, nobody who didn't have boys ages 4-7 understood what their costumes were.

(4) On our way to Judah's school Halloween festival. It was a loooooong-weekend of candy/cavities!

(5) Randomly, Judah pet this homeless man's bunny at the food kitchen, touched his eyes, and freaked out when his eyes swelled shut to the size of golf balls. Wow, crazy allergic reaction. That was a first.

(6) Most of our weekends look like this: errands and the kids hanging out. I call this composition: Trader Bros. They always wait for me like this while I get rung up. Every so often, this is where I realize I forgot my wallet at home and curse the heavens. Mom brain.

They're really into drawing and coloring lately and as always, play really well together. They have moments of squabbling of course, but by in large, they entertain each other (and leave me blessedly alone).

During this particular art session, I overheard Judah saying to himself, a la Bob Ross (my favorite TV show personality and person to which my kids have been subjected to for hours and hours), Now I'm going to put a happy little mountain here...

And I thought, it just doesn't get any better than this.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Momiversity: The Collapse of Parenting

I picked up this book because a friend had mentioned it and because Leonard Sax is a well-known author of parenting books, and well, I'm kind of a parenting book junkie.

In this book that just came out this year, Sax, a family doctor, psychologist and father, tackles pretty much everything all at once. It was like a giant manifesto of his parenting philosophy and it felt like he was verbally vomiting all the things he wanted to tell the parents he saw during his decades of medical practice.

And I quite enjoyed it.

The first half of the book is dedicated to the most common "problems" he sees with kids today. The first is what he calls the "culture of disrespect". He kind of sounds like an old grandpa that starts every sentence with "In my day...[insert example of how kids never disrespected their elders or complained about working hard, etc.]"

His general point was that kids now care more about what their peers think than what their parents think. This he attributes to the dislocation of a child's primary attachment from parent to peers. He has observed this happening as early as 8 or 9 years old. "For the first time in history," Sax quotes another author saying, "young people are turning for instruction, modeling and guidance not to mothers, fathers, teachers, and other responsible adults but to people whom nature never intended to place in a parenting role--their own peers."

And how does this happen? Sax believes it's because many parents abdicate their roles as authorities over their children. Instead of taking their rightful role as limit-setter, giver of firm commands, and makers of the law, parents are misguided into thinking it's best to give their kids "independence" and let them choose their own values with which to guide themselves. Alternatively it may happen if the parent is simply afraid to anger the child and lose the child's affections.

The next "problem" he notes is kids being overweight. Again, the grandpa voice - in 1970 only 4 percent of American children 5 to 11 were obese. In 2008 almost 20 percent were obese.

The reasons for this are pretty cut and dry to Sax:
(1) kids eat too much junk,
(2) kids don't do enough physical activity (because screen time), and
(3) kids don't sleep enough

And underlying all of this is again, parent abdicating authority and not setting proper limits for their kids.

The next "problem" Sad addresses is why so many kids are on medication. Kids are being treated for bipolar disorder and ADHD at record rates and Sax has some compelling data to show that it is indeed an over-diagnosis that had its origins in faulty research data propagated by scientists that were financially incentivized by pharmaceutical companies.

Sax believes the real problem is excessive video-game playing, severe sleep deprivation, and again, permissive parenting that fails to set firm limits for behavior.

The last "problem" Sax addresses is why kids are so fragile. They seem to crumple at the mere touch of criticism. One failed quiz and some kids seem to despair of life itself. Sax attributes this to kids valuing the opinions of peers or their own self-constructed self-concept more than they care about the good regard of their parents and other adults. This creates a "cult of success" because success is the easiest way to impress your peers and yourself.

The solution? Kids need to feel secure in the unconditional acceptance of their parents, and obviously they need to respect their parent's opinions in the first place. Not the most satisfying answer to me, but at least it gives you somewhere to begin.

In the second half of the book Sax rolls out his 3-part solution to all of the problems facing kids today. And it's totally not what you'd expect.

Unlike the vast majority of parenting advice out there, Sax's solutions are a sucker-punch to the Kantian/Enlightenment categories we've all come to unconsciously accept in polite secular society. Instead of sticking with "scientific facts" in the acceptable public sphere of discourse, Sax reaches right into the private sphere of socially constructed "values". Sacred bleu!

Sax recommends that parents:
(1) Teach humility,
(2) Enjoy their kids, and
(3) Teach them the meaning of life


Most unscientific advice ever...but it has the ring of moral intuitive truth to it...but maybe that's just because it's borrowing constructs from a post-Judeo-Christian society...

Either way, this is how Sax proposes a parent does each of the 3 prescriptions:

(1) How to teach humility - give your kids menial chores to do. Strongly limit their time on social media to keep them out of a culture of self-absorption. And spend lots of time in nature so the vastness of creation can give your kid perspective of his relative smallness.

(2) How to enjoy your kids - Don't overschedule your kids in activities. Spend time doing fun stuff with them.

(3) How to teach kids the meaning of life - First, some parenting tenets to AVOID...

Do NOT have the mentality of the common American Dream - the point of life is to (1) work hard in school to get into a top college; (2) go to a top college to get a lucrative job; and (3) get a lucrative job to make a good living and thereby be happy.

Sax notes that all 3 of those assumptions are FALSE. Just because you work hard, doesn't mean you'll get into a good college. And just because you go to a good college doesn't mean you'll end up making high six figures. And just because you make high six figures doesn't mean you'll be happy and fulfilled at all.

Here's another common American tenet to avoid - making personal success the highest goal for your child. Life should not be about what you DO (accomplishments), but who you ARE (character).

So what is the point of everything? Why work hard in school? Why get good grades?

Sax offers these 3 reasons:
1. meaningful work
2. a person to love, and
3. a cause to embrace

Is that the secret sauce to human flourishing?

If so, our culture is really failing our kids.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Our First Date

A few weeks ago I had a mild panic attack as I considered how long it had been since I actually had some quality one-on-one time with Judah. A year ago? Over a year ago? Basically ever since Noah stopped napping.

At this rate, my panicked head calculated, he will become a teenager before I've had the chance to develop strong relational bonds with him, and then he'll prefer the company of his peers over mine, and I'll lose whatever influence I could've ever hoped to have had over him, and he'll fall down a pit of depression and addiction and/or video gaming and drugs! AAAAAAAAAHHHHH!

So after I got my heart rate back down to normal, I told the Spouse I wanted to institute special one-on-one times with the kids. We'll each take a kid once a week or so and hang out with them for about 2 hours. No chores. No errands. Just being together.

And so that's just what we did.

We told the kids about the upcoming "dates" and Judah especially was happily anticipating it. Just to see him looking forward to it so much made me feel already that (a) this was a good thing to do and (b) long over due.  Noah was like, meh, whatever.

Judah looks so happy to not have Noah around, ha!

I decided to take Judah hiking since he loves nature and becomes much more unguarded in the woods. We talked about school and he told me how everything was going well except that it was hard for him to find play mates during recess.

He asked why nobody wanted to play with him. Why some kids were popular but he was not. He shared how bad he feels when everyone walks back to class in groups of twos and threes while he faces the long walk of shame alone.

Once he asked his classmates to wait for him so that he could go back and get his water bottle but no one waited. He described that incident with a rhetorical flourish I will always remember with pride - Mommy, today, I felt like dust. Dust!

Great simile son!

I asked Judah what things I could do to make him feel more loved. He seems so different from my familiar toddler/preschooler who loved huggle snuggles and asked incessantly for me to play with him. He asks for so little now, I don't really know what he needs anymore.

But much to my surprise he replied, Hugs and kisses!

Well, I guess somethings don't change all that quickly. I guess what I interpreted as a diminished need for physical affection was really just a big kid feeling like his mom was too busy to sit and hug for awhile. Which wouldn't be wrong. But should be fixed.

After our walk, I let him chose where to eat and he predictably chose his favorite "restaurant" - Starbucks, and ordered his favorite "meal" - cream cheese and bagel and a chocolate croissant. Our kids are on the opposite of the low-carb diet, obviously.

The entire time, he was aglow in a way that I haven't seen for a long time. He was happy. Really, really happy. Beaming, actually.

And even after our date, the after-glow continued for several days. He was much more affectionate than usual and called me his "date-buddy" frequently. It's a little weird, but also very sweet.

I was surprised when sometime in the middle of our date, he did something he hadn't done for over a year--stooped down to pick a flower for me.

I thought we were done with that phase. The phase where he showers me with love scribbles and flowering weeds and loves me to the moon and back and needs lots of assurance that I feel the same way.

But no, we're not. And I'm so glad for it...and to have found that out before it was too late.