For the Wife Who Married Wrong

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Women, find yourself before you decide to go find a man.

I didn’t do it this way and a lot of us didn’t…doesn’t mean it’s the end of the world.

But a confident woman who knows who she is actually knows what she is looking for in a partner. She isn’t looking to validate herself with a good looking lover. She knows what her deal breakers are and so she easily rules out any companions who do not fit.

She knows she is valuable and unique. She understands herself well enough to have an idea when someone isn’t compatible with her.

Lastly, she loves herself already so when she does find a partner and God confirms, she is able to love out of an overflow of a healed heart. She isn’t trying to soothe the wounds of the past with sex and lust… And who knows…maybe once she is whole she realizes the gift of singleness is grand.

Whenever I see good dating advice, I feel regret.

Regret because I didn’t follow the good advice. Regret because I made huge mistakes. Regret because I ignored things that should have been addressed. Regret because I never gave myself the option of breaking up or waiting for something different. Regret because I feared to be unloved. Regret because I feel like I got married too soon, too young, too naive — and I didn’t realize any of this until after I got married.

It’s funny to say that out loud: I regret getting married when I did, I regret dating the way I did, I regret the choices that I made and where I ended up. All of those things are true, but once the eternal covenant is made, there’s no Plan B, no what if, no way to turn back time and try again.

But I need to say the regret out loud. I need to name mistakes as mistakes, bad decisions as bad decisions, if not for my own benefit then for the benefit of others.

I didn’t do the dating thing right.

I was verbally abusive and manipulative.

People were right to tell him to break up with me.

I was far too insecure to know what I wanted out of life or marriage.

Marrying during a catastrophic existential crisis was a terrible idea.

And it hurts — it kills — to say “I shouldn’t have” and “I wish I’d done,” especially when other couples are happy, and not in therapy, and still madly in love with each other, and telling everybody that marriage is the best thing that ever happened to them.

*

Saying those things, it feels like a betrayal of the one you love most, but it’s not. I love my husband. I’m in love with my husband.

Love doesn’t make it any easier.

It makes it more confusing, because you don’t regret marrying him, but you do, in a way, but not because you regret him, even if you sometimes do. You recognize that it’s not his fault, not even when you yell at him that it is. You recognize that it’s not the marriage’s fault, either, even though it’s so dang difficult every day. (“If you’re in a relationship, sometimes you probably feel like you’re fighting a caged death-match with an invisible spider monkey. And the monkey is rabid. And you don’t have any legs. And then a buffalo jumps in there and starts head-butting everything and your face catches on fire and there is a general atmosphere of chaos.”)

It’s a you problem, and always has been, even if the marriage exacerbates the problem and salts the wound you’re trying to heal.

Marrying before you’re ready, before you’re healed, it’s like trying to bench press 250 on a broken arm, all while trying to smile for the camera the whole time. Maybe marriage would be easier, maybe life would be easier, if I knew who I was and what I’d believed, and had the courage to be that way instead of melting down into existential angst.

I keep telling myself, I thought marriage was for broken people?

Isn’t it?

Maybe I’m a different kind of broken.

*

It feels like there’s a textbook brokenness that marriage only strengthens — and I didn’t have that textbook brokenness. I didn’t have textbook anything — an ENFJ marrying an ISTP; a recovering fundamentalist marrying a cradle Catholic; a narrative, empathetic soul marrying a facts and figures brain.

Even now, writing this, I’m giddy over him and who he is and how different we are and how that makes me laugh and challenges me — but that doesn’t take away the regret, and it doesn’t take away the fear that because we weren’t a textbook case, we’re doomed.

I’m a rule follower. Life ends if the rules aren’t followed. I have no imagination beyond the rules. I have no idea what to anticipate, so I don’t know how to react. I have no skillset for improvising life or trailblazing my own path.

When your story doesn’t follow the rules, doesn’t make a neat equation (do x to get y), when it goes completely off the rails into uncharted, unadvised territory, it makes you want to stop dreaming, trying, and hoping.

This is how I think: I broke the dating rules, and now I face the consequences.

*

This was all weighing on my shoulders, unconsciously, when Amber Picota shared the block quote of advice. Everything, everything about her advice is spot on, everything I didn’t do and didn’t understand and should have.

But for the first time, I didn’t feel only regret. I felt hope.

This good advice wasn’t, for once, in the context of the woman who followed all the dating rules and ended up with the marriage of her dreams. It was in the context of, well, having broken the rules — regret, journey, mess, change, the sensibility that only comes from doing it wrong the first time.

“I didn’t do it this way,” she can admit. “A lot of us didn’t.” (Raising my hand.) “Doesn’t mean it’s the end of the world.”

Oh, thank God. 

And this is the hope, this is the challenge, this is what I grit my teeth to do every day: My marriage, my life will look different and messy and atypical and never the poster child for good Christian anything…but it doesn’t mean it’s the end of the world.

Maybe it’ll even be interesting, for once.

*

“You mean,” said Lucy rather faintly, “that it would have turned out all right – somehow? But how? Please, Aslan! Am I not to know?”

“To know what would have happened, child?” said Aslan. “No. Nobody is ever told that.”

“Oh dear,” said Lucy.

“But anyone can find out what will happen,” said Aslan.

I have lost the opportunity to know what would have happened had I waited, and healed, and collected my confidence and self-knowledge, but I can still find out what will happen now that I choose to heal, grow, and stabilize with a good, loving man.

That is still a choice I can make well, and not regret.

NB: I discovered this in my drafts folder. I wrote this a year ago, right at the end of the Seven Months of Marriage Hell where I felt on the brink of separation. I’m really happy to see that my conclusion proved true so far, and our marriage is doing fabulous!

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I Broke the Myers-Briggs Test

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A self-portrait of my personality

Does anyone else have trouble with personality tests?

I used to love taking personality tests, particularly the Myers-Briggs. Throughout high school and most of college, I consistently tested as an E/INFJ. My friends and I would discuss the nuances of our results and uncovered lots of insight into ourselves and our friendships.

Then several things happened:

  • I started seriously dating, which brought out a completely different side of me. While I was pretty nonconfrontational and undemanding with everyone else in my life, I was this raging storm of confrontation, demands, and neediness with him and him alone. To this day, I am like two different people when it comes to things like confrontation, conflict, and communication. In my marriage, I am blunt and initiate conflict and confrontation with no fear. With everyone else, I live in fear of conflict. In my marriage, I expect Erich to pull his weight in the relationship. With everyone else, I can overextend myself.
  • Dating also aroused my latent anxiety, and I developed or became aware of habits that looked a lot like insecure-anxious attachment. I had developed coping mechanisms to control this anxiety with other people, but with Erich, it all came out. Which was my real personality — the flood of anxiety or the strength that reined it in?
  • I got burnt out by college and withdrew into introversion. I’ve always been more of an ambivert, but I noticeably changed into an introvert in my senior year — and people annoyed me like never before. I hung out with “my people” and dropped as many obligations that involved dealing with people and their emotions as possible. Today, whether I am introverted or extroverted (that is, whether I lose or gain energy around people) depends primarily on the individuals, the social situation, and how much sleep I got the night before.
  • My inner life and my outer life are very different beasts. At work, I am driven, detail-oriented, and perfectionist out of principle. My self-control is insanely good in public. At home, I have often felt legitimately out of control. In personal conversation, I am docile and overeager to find common ground — to the point where the words coming out of my mouth make no sense because I’m trying to say everything and nothing at the same time. When interacting online, I tend to be too blunt, and stirred up far too much trouble when younger behind the protection of email.
  • My two closest friends (my husband, an ISTP, and my college roommate of three years, something like an INFP) began rubbing off on me. Their major personality differences balanced me out, teaching me new ways of thinking and interacting with the world.

All of these things taken together make personality tests a nightmare. Radically different parts of my personality switch on and off depending on the person I’m with or the situation I’m in. There is a huge difference between how I instinctively react, feel, and believe and who I allow myself to be.

It’s no wonder that the last time I took an Enneagram test, I got this message: “It is not clear from these test results which type you are.”

Do you have similar problems with personality tests? What do you get typed as? The Enneagram tentatively has me as a 6 (which sort of makes sense), and the last time I took a Myers-Briggs test, I got ISFP/Adventurer (which is accurate in its data but not in its explanation of the data).

Edited to reflect my newfound realization that I’ve been spelling “Myers” with an extra E my entire life! Word lovers, psychologists, and people who actually pay attention when they read, I apologize for the agony my misspelling has been causing you.

No Bad Kids

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This is the last installment in my premature celebration of the Week of the Young Child. I didn’t finish up yesterday’s post in time because e.e. and I took advantage of the three hours of spring weather, so you only get 4 posts. Try not to be too upset. If you need more young child inspiration, check out the other posts in this series on infant play, listening to children, and not being a helicopter parent

Christian views on discipline and child development are often based in the idea of original sin. “Foolishness is bound up in the heart of a child,” Proverbs tells us. “Beat it out with a stick.” (Rough paraphrase.)

According to this view, every undesirable behavior stems from some sort of conscious choice to do wrong — disobedience, disrespect, or just general naughtiness. Kids are inherently sinful, and their sinfulness affects everything they do.

I cannot disagree with this diagnosis strongly enough.

Yes, the fall affects every aspect of the human experience. We are indeed sinful. But “sin” is not, in my understanding, properly understood as merely disobedience to or rebellion against God’s law. Sin isn’t even primarily willful, conscious choices to do wrong for doing wrong’s sake. Sin is any disturbance of God’s shalom, any disorder of the good things still in this world. This includes disobedience and rebellion, of course, but it also covers the brokenness of the world and the harm we receive from it — whether it’s as “benign” as watching an animal die, suffering from the common cold, or getting yelled at for an accident; or as serious as enduring discrimination or abuse.

Living in a broken world messes us up.

I believe children are born in the image of God — that is, with an innate desire to love, to create, and to do good.  Jesus praises little children as our examples of faith, because he recognizes their motivations to please, to do right, to wonder, and to believe against all odds.

But children are not little angels. They throw fits. They bite other kids. They yell “no” when you tell them it’s time to change their diaper.

How can I make the case that kids are inherently good when we’ve all seen plenty examples of children acting out?

Well, think back to the last time you lost it.

I’ll start. I came home from work and snapped at my husband for not doing the dishes like I’d asked. “You never do anything around the house!” I yelled, instantly remembering a half dozen things he’d done in the past week. Offended, he then pointed out those half dozen things. Instead of apologizing, I grumbled something about him being so sensitive. He gave me a look of hurt and annoyance and turned away. “You don’t care about me!” I yelled. “All you care about is your stupid computer games!” A long rant later, having failed at getting a rise out of him, I stormed into the bedroom and burst into tears.

I just wanted him to hug me. I just wanted to sleep. I just wanted the dishes done. I just didn’t know what I wanted; I was too strung out to think straight.

Sure, you could argue that I’m acting out of my total depravity. Maybe you’re right. But I’d gotten no sleep last night while the baby wailed, I’d felt like I spent all my time cleaning our house, an awkward coworker disagreement went down at work, a kid got a bloody nose under my watch, and the unwashed dishes were the straw that broke this weary camel’s back.

I don’t normally snap at my husband, but when I do, I’m sleep-deprived and stressed.

Our adult bad behavior often stems from the hurt or frustration we experience in a broken world. It’s a rare person who chooses to exercise her will in a sinful way just for the sake of it. Physical and emotional ailments wear down the will, making it more prone to hurting others or ourselves, like a wounded animal snarling at its kind owner in self-preservation.

Even with abuse or crime, hurt people hurt people. Hurt begets hurt. Violence begets violence. Abuse begets abuse. We give what we experience.

None of that excuses sin, but it explains the complications of human nature — how pain and ignorance disorder our otherwise good motives, causing harm to ourselves and others.

With children, it’s even less complicated than that. Developmentally immature, children don’t know how to handle the brokenness of the world, not even small things like hunger or minor disappointment. They don’t have the self-control to quell their emotions when they’re stressed; they don’t have the empathy required to see how their actions affect others; they don’t have the knowledge of how to solves problems with words instead of teeth and hands.

Bad behavior, from tantrums to biting to disobedience, is often communication under duress: “I’m tired!” “I want that toy back!” “I feel like that rule is unfair!”

Children don’t explicitly do things to harm or bother others for the sake of harming or bothering. They feel things deeply, and they need to express those feelings. They just don’t know how to do so in appropriate ways.

Neither do many adults, it turns out. Have you ever seen a kid throwing a tantrum in the noodle aisle, only to walk past them again in the cereal aisle and see the mom screaming at the kid for throwing a tantrum in public? Both felt strongly about something, and both expressed their feelings in an inappropriate, immature way.

The thing is, many adults give their own tantrums a pass because their own feelings appear legitimate to them, while they hold kids to a higher standard of behavior simply because their kids’ reasons for throwing a tantrum don’t seem legitimate.

We need to give our children the same respect, grace, and understanding we want when the world wears us down with its many inconveniences, injustices, and hurts. And if you’re not giving or receiving this grace for yourself, you’re not going to be able to give it, either. Just as there aren’t many “bad” kids, there aren’t many “bad” parents, either. Just harried, stressed, tired, overwhelmed, and outnumbered parents who are still learning how to survive in a broken, sinful world.

 

You Are Not the Authority on Your Child’s Feelings

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A rare “cranky” photo. He fussed during our entire Easter photoshoot…because he had just sat through a long church service and was more than ready for a nap.

I’m celebrating Week of the Young Child 2018 a week early! (Yay, mom brain!) Yesterday I wrote about curbing our tendency to tell kids “no, don’t, stop.” Today I’m talking about listening to them. 

I write a lot about the importance of letting people tell their narratives as they see them. I believe this is crucial for understanding and making peace with those who are different from us. When we fail to hear what people are actually saying and meaning, when we hijack their narratives to push our own agenda, we are no longer truth seekers.

Children are no exception. In fact, I think it’s particularly imperative for parents to figure out what their children mean, instead of foisting false motives onto kids. Children are only just becoming self-aware and are much less capable of expressing that self-awareness. We are their last court of appeals; if we get it wrong, they have no one else to turn to.

One of my students injured herself on the playground — tripped while running, regular kid stuff. When her mom asked the girl for an explanation, she didn’t even let her daughter finish the requested explanation before lovingly and kindly butting in with her own version:

“I was running on the playground, and — ”

“No, you weren’t looking where you were going again, were you?”

The girl’s happy smile froze. She didn’t contradict or agree with this assessment. She didn’t know what to say in the face of a parent rewriting the story of how she simply tripped over a stair step. What’s worse, the parent insinuated that this was almost a character issue: you’re too spazzy, you never pay attention.

We hijack our children’s narratives all the time, especially when they’re expressing inconvenient emotions.

I find myself teasingly calling e.e. a crankybutt every time he inexplicably cried. This is dismissive of both his emotions and his communication. It’s not that he understands and is offended by the term “crankybutt”; it’s not that I fail to quickly and gently respond to his cries.

But it is the case that every time I genuinely view him as a crankybutt, I am not accurately identifying his real needs and emotions. Every time I label him without understanding, I train myself to view me as the authority on my child’s emotions and meaning, instead of him.

With that in mind, I try to be intentional in how I speak to and about e.e. When he starts fussing for no apparent reason, I say, “I wonder if you’re feeling tired” or “I wonder if you’d like to lie on your back now; let’s roll you over and see.” Simply adding I wonder reminds me to be observant rather than prematurely dogmatic.

If a nap or a spell on his back doesn’t do the trick, it doesn’t mean he is a cranky, demanding child who, oh my goodness, just needs to stop crying already. It means my assessment was wrong about what his crying meant, and I should try something else. 

When my husband comes home, I try to speak accurately of e.e. Was he really “cranky all day”? Was he really “clingy” or “needy” (both negative words)? Or was he simply in genuine need of more cuddles and attention because he’s an infant and requires Mommy to help regulate his emotions? Maybe he was slightly gassy and I didn’t know it, or feeling extra tired that day, or starting another growth spurt unbeknownst to me.

How we speak of our children to ourselves and to others matters so much, because perception is reality. If we start viewing our kids as whiny, cranky, and naughty, instead of tired, overstimulated, and curious, we will start treating them as whiners, crankybutts, and disobedient children — instead of just kids. We will overwrite and thus erase what our children are trying to tell us in their limited way. 

Even more insidiously and subtly, we’ll blame our kids for our own negative feelings instead of taking ownership of them ourselves. We are worn out at the end of the day, preoccupied with our own exhaustion and stress, so when our preschooler bursts into tears at pickup, we minimize her exhaustion and stress as a “tantrum” in order to cope. “Why are you being such a baby?” we’ll snap. “Stop crying right now.”

Guilty as charged. When e.e. wasn’t napping well and I was zonked from multiple night feedings, I felt frustration, sometimes even anger, at e.e. and his nonstop crying. “You are so frustrating!” I wanted to yell. “Just stop crying and go to sleep and we’ll both be happy!”

With the very last shred of self-control within me, I paused and reminded myself that e.e. was not frustrating; was frustrated; and there’s a big difference.

Correctly identifying and speaking the frustration out loud kept me from blowing my top: “I am feeling frustrated,” I would tell my uncomprehending infant. “You keep crying, I haven’t slept enough, and all of that is making me feel very frustrated with you.”

Reality was restored, the true narrative recovered, and both my feelings and e.e.’s feelings were understood and validated.

Stop Telling Kids to Stop

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My students playing freely with baking soda and colored vinegar. I made only one rule (“Don’t eat anything”), and the only kid who broke never made that mistake again!

It’s the Week of the Young Child! (Actually, it’s the week before the Week of the Young Child, but my young child keeps waking up every forty-five minutes at night and I can’t read dates right, so we’re going to celebrate early.) Yesterday I wrote about playing with infants. Today I’m talking about playing in general, and how boring and restrictive we adults are about it. 

“Don’t walk in the mud!”

“Don’t go near that road.”

“Don’t touch it!”

“Don’t put it in your mouth!”

Caregivers talk almost exclusively in imperative commands. I’ve seen parents hover over their kids, controlling every blink, twitch, and word with some form of negative commentary:

“Hold the door open for her! God. Do not walk in that dirt — DO NOT WALK IN THAT DIRT. I don’t want that in my house. Get out of there right now. Go to the passenger side door, she’s backing out. Stop it, you two; get in. Now! Stop! Stop it! Why are you acting like this?!”

I’ve been that teacher who micromanages every bit of fun that kids have:

“Keep your hands to yourself, Casey; there’s no wrestling at school. No, we don’t stand on that bench, you might fall off and hurt yourself. No, you may not walk up the slide. Get out of the way so Rachel can — Rachel! Feet first down the slide! Put down the snow, Malia, no, ew, don’t eat it, that’s yucky. Friends, get off the ice! Nobody is allowed to play near the ice, remember?”

No, don’t, stop.

We say these things to our children over and over again, even if no real danger is present or harm is done.

It’s often born out of a fear of healthy risk, a disinclination to clean up messes, and, for me especially, a fear of what other people think. Will people think I’m a lax parent if I let my toddler try on a purse while shopping? Will people think I’m a lax teacher if I let kids talk in the bathroom? Is that lady judging my parenting because my son accidentally let a door slam in her face? Will parents think less of me if they see kids pushing each other in the Cozy Coupe car under my watch?

Instead of putting the children’s needs first — their needs to play and explore freely without constantly bumping into a barrier of no, stop, don’t — caregivers often put their own desires first — the desire to look competent and authoritative to others, the desire to not clean up another mess. But it’s emotionally exhausting and ineffective for caregivers to uphold detailed, endless rules that unnecessarily restrict kids. It just breeds power plays and frustration on both ends.

For everyone’s sanity, here are some suggestions to curb this micromanaging tendency:

Create yes spacesA “yes space” in RIE theory is an area with no hazards — a place where, theoretically, your child could explore unsupervised without risk to herself or other objects. It’s a place where caregivers could have no conceivable reason to say “no” to anything their child wants to pull out or play with.

Even if you don’t have a special room or gated area for a “yes space,” put on the onus on you to take away hazards instead of requiring a young child to stymie their curiosity. Put away items, lock cabinets, or move your child to safer area so that they hear “no, don’t touch!” less often. Why create an unnecessary power struggle when you can simply take away the temptation?

Get comfortable with risk. Kids learn through risk. They learn about themselves, their competencies and shortcomings, and the world around them, its hazards and helps. If we constantly police what kids can do under our supervision, they won’t be safe and smart when outside of our supervision.

As an example, I try to let kids walk down the steps of our school’s changing station on their own, even though it’s a bit tricky for younger, uncoordinated kids. I stand right there, ready to catch them if they fall, but I don’t hold their hand unless they request it. Sometimes they trip a bit and risk falling, but those near-falls teach them how to navigate stairs of all sorts on their own. Those children are less likely to do reckless things, since they’ve experienced the risk of nearly falling flat on their face. It’s the kids who get lifted down from the changing table or who always have an adult helping them down who do far more dangerous things (like nearly throwing themselves off the stairs expecting me to catch them!).

Be realistic about harm. Kids will fall, trip, and run into things no matter how many rules we enact or how many times we yell, “Don’t run! Watch where you’re going!” They will get hurt, and there will be scrapes, bruises, and bloody noses. That’s just the nature of childhood.

We have a soft gym at my preschool, and kids love to roll down this ramp on large balls. Some teachers are uncomfortable with this and want the kids to only slide on their bottoms. You know how many kids have injured themselves rolling down the ramp on balls? Zero. And how many kids have hurt themselves merely sliding down the ramp? Plenty.

Besides, kids often ignore adults’ pleas to stop if the risk is minuscule or the request is silly. When I was a kid, I lived on a quiet street in the suburbs. All the neighborhood kids congregated in and around this street to play hockey and ride bikes. We’d been doing this for years when one day, a police officer spotted us riding our bikes back and forth across the street, in and out of our driveways. “That is too dangerous,” he cautioned us. “You could get hit by a car. I don’t want to see any of you doing that again.”

From that day on, we obediently made sure no police officers were nearby before we started up our bike rides.

Even kids as tiny as toddlers will continue to take a risk if they don’t understand the real danger behind it, which is why it’s important to reserve our no, don’t, stop for clear dangers. Otherwise, our no, don’t put the dishwasher pod in your mouth will seem as over-reactionary as no, don’t eat the snow. (We all tasted snow as kids. And leaves. And grass. And our mom’s weird-tasting wood coasters.)

Unless the activity causes intentional injury (e.g., one student slinging balls into other kids’ faces) or a potential for a huge injury (e.g., playing by a busy road), just calm down.

Let children measure their own level of safety. It’s true, kids make dumb decisions. But it’s also true that in certain circumstances kids can evaluate and express when they feel hurt or in danger better than their caretakers. I’m losing count of how many times I’ve pulled two kids apart on the playground, expecting howls of pain, and found both the tackler and the tackled laughing hysterically.

“Ian,” I’ll chastise the offender. “We do not tackle our friends at school. You could have hurt Ryan really badly!”

And then as soon as I turn around, Ryan, that poor, helpless victim, tackles Ian back, still laughing uncontrollably.

For some reason, many kids find it funny to punch, tackle, push, wrestle, and throw balls at each other. Don’t you remember doing things as a kid that just sound horrific now as an adult? I rough housed with my dad, getting tossed on my head and finding it the funniest thing ever. I repeatedly crawled through this huge bushy plant with leaves that gave you millions of paper cuts. I wound up our tire swing and spun around until I was dizzy enough to puke — multiple times.

Every kid tolerates things differently, and we do children a disservice to decide what they can tolerate or not. I’ve determined that my job as a teacher is not to enforce my view of what’s tolerable or not, but to enforce what they view as tolerable or not.

We teach our kids to speak up for themselves: “I don’t like that,” I hear them say all the time to each other, from being called a “buckethead” or getting tackled to the ground. I uphold children’s “I don’t like that.”

If I see Ian going in to tackle Alexa, for instance, I’ll throw myself between the two because I know how much Alexa hates playing rough. If Ryan decides he’s had enough of the tackle game and Ian’s not letting up, I pull Ian off and say, “Ryan told you he doesn’t like that. You need to listen to friends’ words when they tell you they don’t like something.”

Just don’t be a stick in the mud, okay? Really, what’s the harm in your child walking through some damp dirt in the parking lot? Worst case scenario, he gets dirt on your car floor, which is already covered in Cheerio dust and road salt. What’s so bad about kids wrestling each other? Worst case scenario, someone gets hurt, and the game stops. What’s the worst that can happen if you let kids climb up the slide?

I’ll tell you. They can step on their dress, slip, and slam their chin into the landing, resulting in an ER trip and stitches. But did that stop me from climbing up the slide? You bet it didn’t.

And if busting my chin open didn’t stop me from doing something fun, you shouldn’t stop kids from being kids.

How to Play with an Infant

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Our stupidly simple play space: a blanket and Mommy’s mirror

Welcome to the Week of the Young Child 2018! To celebrate, I’m writing a week’s worth of blog posts on how to foster young children and our relationship with them. 

Being that mom, I worried about how to play with my infant son. Did I need to bring out special toys? How long should he have tummy time? Should I be with him at all times? Isn’t he supposed to be rolling over by now? Pinterest, help me before I ruin my child!!!

Of course, e.e. wasn’t remotely interested in any bright toy I waved in front of his face. He gravitated toward stuffing burp cloths in his mouth and staring at blank white walls.

In Resources for Infant Educarers (RIE) philosophy, infants are competent little humans capable of expressing their needs and interests — as opposed to helpless blank slates requiring parents to do everything for them. Obviously, immobile, nonverbal infants require more help than mobile, verbal children, but it’s true that even the littlest of humans aren’t entirely helpless.

Once I began viewing e.e. as capable of thinking and communicating his own wants and needs, I took a step back and respected his ability to entertain himself as well.

I’ve since come to view my role as a parent as less of an entertainer, shaking rattles and singing songs, and more of an observer and a facilitator. I don’t make the fun; I make the space for it.

The light bulb moment happened when he was around two months old.

Every time he suckled for his pacifier, I stuck it in his mouth. Every time, he almost immediately spat it out — and began suckling for it again. Frustrated, I stopped giving him the nook.

“Look at him,” my husband said suddenly. “He’s playing with it.”

Sure enough, e.e. had invented a single-player game of fetch — spitting out the pacifier, then slowly reaching out his tongue to lick or nuzzle it back into his mouth. Then he spat it out again and repeated the whole process.

My two-month-old is making up games? Clearly, I didn’t even know my own child.

Ever since then, I’ve spent a good deal of time just sitting and observing e.e. — his interests, his competencies, his ways of doing things. From those observations, I’ve tweaked the activities we do together to strengthen his interests or pique new ones.

A little while ago, he discovered his hands were not only good for gnawing but also great for grabbing.

That’s when I reintroduced toys, after three months of no luck. But I didn’t play with him, per se. I didn’t jiggle the rattle or kiss his face with the bunny. (At least not very much. I’m only human — totally enamored and obsessed mom human, to be precise.) I just set them out and watched what he did with them.

In his own time, his gaze fell on the fuzzy gray bunny, and his mouth and fingers registered that stuffed animals felt a lot like his beloved burp cloths. He spent a good five minutes pawing and flailing at that bunny.

Then he lost interest.

Normally when a baby loses interest in something, I start shoving the object back in her face, cooing, bouncing, standing on my head to get her attention again. (Why do we do that? Do we feel like failures as caregivers when babies find the ceiling more interesting than our proferred activity? Do we just think that’s just the thing to do with babies? Asking for a friend.)

That’s annoying. That’s rude. That’s the exact thing I snap at my husband not to do. And if I don’t want anybody to stick a toy or a long explanation about hydroponic gardens in my face when I’m obviously writing this blog post, Erich, why does another human’s clear signal of disinterest deserve less respect just because that human is an infant?

So I curb my inexplicable tendencies to be the life of the party. I try to just watch instead, to see if I can facilitate another play opportunity or just let him be.

Babies know what they want.

No, really, they do — that, or my baby’s just the most prodigious infant that ever lived. (Which, like, duh.)

The other day, e.e. expressed an interest in sitting up. Whenever I propped him up on his Boppy pillow, he strained forward until I lifted him into a sitting position. This can’t be developmentally appropriate for his underdeveloped spine, I reasoned, and lowered him back down. But he stuck his neck forward, crunched his belly, and gave me that bewildered why-do-you-do-this-to-me-Mom? look.

The books say he isn’t supposed to be sitting up until four months, but e.e. knew what he wanted, and he knew how to guilt Mommy into making it happen.

Okay. Fine. (But I still want you rolling over, e.e. Prodigious babies roll over.)

Now that I’m looking for e.e.’s cues, his playtime objectives are quite obvious. When he wants to grin or talk, he grins or talks. When he wants to interact with me, he looks in my eyes. When he doesn’t, he looks away. When he gets tired of tummy time, he starts fussing. When he wants to be on his tummy, he rocks his body until I take a hint.

Sometimes he’s smiley and social. Sometimes he’s introspective. Sometimes he wants to stare at blank walls. Sometimes he just wants to gaze into my eyes while making duck lips. And sometimes he wants to lay prone on the ground and complain about life. (Like mother, like son.)

Through observation, I’ve seen e.e. for who he is, what he wants, and what he can do — even as an infant.

*

Okay, weird mom, but really, how do I play with an infant? Here are e.e.’s and my top five suggestions for easy, fun play:

  1. Baby yoga
  2. Songs with motions (“The Wheels on the Bus,” “Hickory Dickory Dock,” “Bananas Unite,” etc.)
  3. Blowing raspberries at each other
  4. Mimicking each other’s vowel sounds and facial expressions
  5. And, of course, chewing on burp cloths

We Don’t “Just Need Jesus”

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When someone shares her tough problem on a Facebook group, it irks me when people say, “I’m praying for you! (heart)” — and nothing else. There are many Facebook threads of, “Praying!”, “Praying for you, girl!”, “I’ll be praying for you!!!” and then a long comment from Bailey Bergmann Steger, sharing all the advice and experience she can.

It irks me when people “just pray,” because prayer doesn’t make problems go away. Solutions make problems go away. A girl asking about how to handle this tough conversation with a friend doesn’t need a thread of “just prayer.” She needs wisdom, guidance, and advice.

Spiritual and relational problems have real solutions. Christians don’t like real solutions, I’ve noticed. We like to shuffle all the problems up to Jesus and let him take care of them, as if there is no hope, no solution, and no way we can contribute to bringing about change.

I’ve said it many times too: “The world is so messed up. We just need Jesus.”

I said it because it was the pious response modeled for me by Christians dedicated to remaining separated from the world but still shaking their heads over the world as it sunk to hell.

“Jesus,” in this case, is a magical fix, a last-resort fix, something we invoke at the Wednesday prayer meeting.

In light of systemic hatred and prejudice in our world, I am quite confident the world doesn’t “just need Jesus.” Jesus as a magical fix, invoked only in prayer, doesn’t target the systems of racism, sexism, and abuse of majority power. It leaves people’s hearts unchallenged and unchanged. In fact, “just Jesus” often fostered these systems.

Christians and their prayers and Biblical interpretations supported the enslavement of blacks on the basis of their race. America is still reaping the consequences of “just Jesus.”

Christians and their prayers and Biblical interpretations continue to support the subordination of women and the antagonism of the LGBT+ community.

Christians and their prayers and Biblical interpretations continue to create environments and excuses for sexually, emotionally, and spiritually abusing the vulnerable.

We don’t need “just Jesus.” We need information, education, empathy, and resources to combat these systems of oppression. We don’t just need revival of our hearts. We need actual change worked by actual people.

What many Christians miss is that Christ came to redeem the whole world — not just our individual hearts. He came to smash oppression, not just die on the cross. As the church, we are the hands and feet of Christ. We are the body of Christ. We must now walk the earth healing, teaching, freeing, challenging, protecting, and conquering.

Prayer alone will not change the world. Invoking “just Jesus” alone will not change the world. But Jesus through the body he left on earth can change the world.

NB: I wrote this reflection in July 2016 and just now found it in my drafts. It’s still true today!

e.e.’s Easter Vigil Baptism

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Though I find my baptism at age seven meaningful, Erich and I chose to have e.e. baptized as an infant for a couple reasons: the church has always baptized infants, and paedobaptism honors the childlike faith of children raised in Christian homes. e.e. will grow up believing in Jesus, receiving communion, and participating in the church. That simple faith is more than adequate in God’s eyes; in fact, Christ commands us to believe as trustingly as little children. When e.e. is older, he will have the opportunity to publicly profess his faith in confirmation, a choice that he will fully make on his own, when and if he is ready.

Here’s the Episcopalian rite of baptism, with images from e.e.’s special day.

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We present Emmerich Erich to receive the Sacrament of Baptism.

Will you be responsible for seeing that the child you present is brought up in the Christian faith and life?
I will, with God’s help.

Will you by your prayers and witness help this child to grow into the full stature of Christ?
I will, with God’s help.

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Do you renounce Satan and all the spiritual forces of wickedness that rebel against God?
I renounce them.

Do you renounce the evil powers of this world which corrupt and destroy the creatures of God?
I renounce them.

Do you renounce all sinful desires that draw you from the love of God?
I renounce them.

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Do you turn to Jesus Christ and accept him as your Savior?
I do.

Do you put your whole trust in his grace and love?
I do.

Do you promise to follow and obey him as your Lord?
I do.

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Will you who witness these vows do all in your power to support Emmerich in his life in Christ?
We will.

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Let us join with those who are committing themselves to Christ and renew our own baptismal covenant.

Do you believe in God the Father?
I believe in God, the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth.

Do you believe in Jesus Christ, the Son of God?
I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord. He was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary. He suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried. He descended to the dead. On the third day he rose again. He ascended into heaven, and is seated at the right hand of the Father. He will come again to judge the living and the dead.

Do you believe in God the Holy Spirit?
I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic Church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting.

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Will you continue in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of the bread, and in the  prayers?
I will, with God’s help.

Will you persevere in resisting evil, and, whenever you fall into sin, repent and return to the Lord?
I will, with God’s help.

Will you proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ?
I will, with God’s help.

Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself?
I will, with God’s help.

Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being?
I will, with God’s help.

Excerpted from The Online Book of Common Prayer

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The Creativity of Holy Week

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That typical family photo where the baby finally smiles when the adults aren’t looking

Whew.

Holy Week has me exhausted. As a reader and choir member, I attended nearly every service this week. This is my first journey from Ash Wednesday through Lent all the way to Resurrection Sunday, and I loved every second of it.

I’m used to Easter being a one-day event, maybe with a little bit of heart prep on Palm Sunday. On Easter Sundays of yore, I got gussied up in a new dress to sing “Christ the Lord Is Risen Today” at whatever Baptist church we attended at the time. And that’s pretty much it (not counting the Easter egg hunt, Starburst jelly beans, and Resurrection Eggs — all holy rituals in their own right).

This Easter was an all-out marathon. Like I said, I’d never fully participated in the church calendar before, and was honestly skeptical of certain parts. Lenten sacrifice, for example. I gave up something for Lent this year (though, really, being a parent of a newborn automatically enrolls you into intense Lenten sacrifice — NO SLEEP). I didn’t get the point. It didn’t make me feel closer to God, or remind me to pray more, or in any way improve my spiritual life. I wasn’t even suffering: turns out it was an easy thing to give up and I didn’t miss it at all. When I returned to it on Easter Sunday, I wasn’t eager to have it back in my life.

Lenten fail? Or maybe Lenten success? Maybe my Lenten takeaway is that I don’t always need the things I think I need, that they aren’t as big a deal to living life as I formerly thought.

Holy Week is hands-down my favorite part of the liturgical year so far. I’ve been researching a more creative spirituality, using the senses and imagination to enter into Scripture and prayer (like Ignatian imaginative prayer and lectio divina). Holy Week provided many opportunities to engage with the Gospel readings in creative ways.

On Palm Sunday, we marched around the parking lot waving real palm branches after a bellowing bagpipe (a truly authentic recreation of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem). One couple driving past even stopped to follow us into the church after seeing our joyful, freezing cold procession. We all processed into the church, where the organ blasted “All Glory Laud and Honor.”

The youth Sunday school classes provided a dramatized reading of the Passion. Our deacon read the narration, the students read for Jesus, Peter, the High Priest, etc., and another student drummed ominously underneath the entire reading. It was beautifully, simply, non-cheesily done, adding more layers of interest and art to engage you with the Gospel text without distracting you from the Gospel text, if that makes sense.

Every Wednesday we walked through the stations of the cross, visual representations of different moments during Christ’s suffering and crucifixion. I say “we,” but really, Erich, e.e., and I only attended a handful during Lent. Noon is smack dab during e.e.’s nap time, and he was cranky. I contemplatively nursed him during many of the stations.

On Maundy Thursday, the choir led a Taizé service — chants as opposed to hymns, sung over and over to facilitate meditation and prayer. Veni, sancte spiritus, we intoned repeatedly as we processed into church. At the close of the service, the priest cried out in a loud voice, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning?”

No blessing or dismissal followed.

We stripped the altar — candles, hymnals, chairs, the Eucharist, everything disappeared into the sacristy. Then the lights went out. In pitch darkness, a wooden clacker cracked out three strikes, and we dismissed in silence.

The Gethsemane vigil began, with individuals watching and praying for an hour at a time, in faithfulness to Christ, who asked if his disciples could stay awake for even one hour while he prayer in agony. (The answer for me was absolutely not this year. See parental exhaustion above. I’d love to participate next year.)

I’m sure something great happened on Holy Friday, but e.e. wanted to nap right before the noon service.

And then came the Easter vigil. This was my favorite service during Holy Week. The procession entered with the Pascha candle, the deacon sang to the candle for a long time, and we passed on the light down the aisles with our own tiny candles, which melted into a wax puddle by the end of the service. Erich, used to Catholic masses, snootily huffed that they should have used beeswax candles instead. I, used to nothing, was excited there were candles of any sort.

I was not excited that Erich tried to juggle a candle, a pacifier, and our baby dressed in a slippery christening gown all at once. Oh yes — e.e. was getting baptized during this vigil. By candlelight. (A whole post on that is forthcoming!)

Afterwards we shouted, “The Lord is risen indeed! Alleluia!” and the lights went up and the organ blasted and we belted out a triumphant song.

Sort of. In reality I was trying to get a wailing e.e. to calm down with a bottle without getting milk and candlewax all over his lacy gown, and that makes things less triumphant.

On Easter Sunday, we wove lilies and daffodils into a cross and just had a wonderful, joyous Easter service, complete with — of course — “Christ the Lord Is Risen Today.” Our deacon wore a balloon bishop’s hat for the dismissal (obviously), and e.e. commanded a fleet of preteens to hunt Easter eggs for him.

A glorious Easter weekend, indeed.

What were your favorite moments from Holy Week this year?

// All of that Lenten/Holy Week meditation culminated in these thoughts on female disciples, faithfulness, and a new narrative for Easter.

The Gospel According to the Female Disciples

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Saint Veronica wiping the face of Christ, Mattia Preti

During the weeks of Lent and Holy Week itself, the hymns are full of deep, dark confessions: was the one who crucified Christ. was the one who abandoned him. was the one who denied him. Just like his disciples.

That’s the narrative: we’re all terrible, faithless, sin-filled, wimpy people, just like Peter who denied Jesus on the third cock crow, just like the disciples who couldn’t even keep watch for one hour, just like Pontius Pilate who caved in to the crowd’s demands, just like the multitudes who chanted, “Crucify him!”

But that’s the male narrative.

The women? That isn’t like the women at all.

Mary anointed Christ’s feet and mopped it with her own hair, a foreshadowing both of Christ’s burial and of Christ washing the twelve disciples’ feet. “If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet,” Jesus told them. “For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you. If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them.”

Mary knew these things. She knew even without his example.

Pilate caved into the crowds’ unjust demands. His wife urged against this: “Have nothing to do with that righteous man, for I have suffered much because of him today in a dream.”

There’s a common narrative about how the crowds cheering for Jesus on Palm Sunday were the same ones shouting for his crucifixion a few days later. This is absolutely not true. Luke records “a multitude of people and of women mourning and lamenting for him.” Christ even stops along the Via Dolorosa to address the women.

And while most of the male disciples had fled, the Gospel accounts go out of their way to place his female disciples at his crucifixion — not only the core band of women who had ministered to him along the way, but also a crowd of women who had followed him into Jerusalem. (Perhaps the same women waving palms and hailing him as the Messiah.) Several Marys and Salome stood by his cross. The only male disciple mentioned at the crucifixion is the disciple whom Jesus loved.

Whereas the twelve disciples couldn’t even keep watch for one hour while Christ prayed, the women kept watch over Christ even in death. When he was buried, there sat Mary Magdalene and the other Mary, watching opposite the tomb. And we all know the resurrection story — the women who had ministered to him in life came to minister to him in death and were rewarded with the first visit of the risen Christ. They were the first to believe and proclaim his resurrection, the first apologists, the first preachers.

Women.

You know, women, who are easily deceived and incapable of preaching, teaching, and leading in the church. Women, who need a spiritual covering from a man. Women, whom God saw fit to always place under the authority of another man because men are the real spiritual leaders.

If we’re looking at the numbers, the sex most faithful, most spiritually astute, and most blessed were women — the female disciples of Christ, the female followers of Christ. The (male) religious establishment persecuted and handed Christ over to death. The (male) political establishment ignored his sense of justice and crucified Christ. The (male) disciples fled in terror, denying Christ left and right.

But not the women.

There were many faithful men, of course. Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus risked their positions and their lives by burying Jesus appropriately, and Mark notes Joseph’s courage in particular for doing so. John was evidently standing with the women, close enough for Christ to charge him with looking after his mother. The centurions believed after the earth quaked and the sky went dark: “Surely this was the Son of God!” And the crowds who followed and mourned Christ were comprised of many men as well.

But not one woman, not one female disciple, is mentioned as unfaithful. Not one female disciple denied him. Not one female disciple fled. Not one female disciple disbelieved the resurrection.

I’m not arguing for a matriarchal Christianity or the superiority of women. I’m pushing back against the ludicrous ideas that men by virtue of being male are more like Christ’s image, more spiritually capable, more suitable for guarding and guiding Christ’s church.

And I’m pushing back against this idea that there’s one spiritual narrative at Easter — the one where we’re all rotten, faithless deniers of Christ.

Maybe you are. But maybe your story at Easter is less like the male disciples’ and more like his female disciples’ — one of faithfulness, service, and love, of dashed hopes, of quiet mourning, of standing by and watching the reasons for your faith slip away, of watching God die.

Maybe you’re not like the alleged people who cried “Hosanna!” on Sunday and “Crucify him!” on Friday. Maybe you’re like the women who followed Christ into Jerusalem and then followed him down the Via Dolorosa.

Maybe you’re not like the disciples whom Jesus said would betray and deny him. Maybe you’re like the disciples who went to the tomb on Easter morning, still serving, still watching, still faithful, and were rewarded with the greeting of their beloved Lord.

Maybe, this Easter, you’re like Christ’s female disciples.

// More good reflections on this topic: Mary, the Woman Who Led God by Dalaina May, and Did Jesus Really Spend His Time with Just Twelve Men?, by Gail Wallace