Balancing Environmental Disturbances

The more I learn, the more I unravel. Favorite childhood books are coming under scrutiny and it’s hard to balance nostalgia with a sense of doing better. Last week, I grappled with the idea of Intermediate Disturbance Hypothosis, the idea that too much disturbance is just as harmful as too little diversity. Here’s an excerpt––head over to SheLoves to read the whole essay!

My seven-year-old daughter and I just finished reading The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien. It took us all summer with stops and starts because of camping trips and visits with family. I was amazed at how engaged Bea was in the story since this was the first “capital L” piece of literature we tried.

About halfway through the story, Bea stopped me and declared, “There are no girls in this story! Why not?!”

I turned to the copyright page to check the publication date: 1937. We talked a bit about the time period in which Tolkien was writing—that fantasy wasn’t a “girl’s audience.” Bea wasn’t convinced.

When we finished the book, I asked her how she liked it. She decided it was good but added, “I’m writing two more versions. One with only girls and one with both boys and girls so that they’re even.”

I was recently talking with a friend about the books we read with our children. Should I get rid of all the Dr. Seuss books in our house because of his racist artwork? What about Ma’s fear of the Osage Nation as they built a cabin on occupied land? Should all our books pass the Bechdel test, requiring two named female characters to have a conversation with each other?

Our answer is no… not yet.

My husband read the entire Little House series with Bea. I’ve read The Hobbit with her. Our bookshelves still have well-loved copies of Hop on Pop and Mr. Brown Can Moo, Can You? Our answer, as with most of our parenting choices, is really, let’s talk about it. Let’s think critically about our choices. But let’s not ban anything just yet.

As someone who values history and context, I want to raise my girls with a sense of place in time. We are not making decisions in a vacuum—the stories we hear, the politics we support, the ways we think about God are all products of hundreds of years of stories, literature, and collective behaviors. Some of these behaviors are unhealthy, both to us individually and to society as a whole. Most of our western nations have been built on the foundation of colonialism and slavery of some sort. We can’t escape it.

So how do we raise kids who are aware and knowledgeable? How do we start to repair the sins of the past? Head over to SheLoves to read the rest and join the conversation!

What foundational book do you find yourself questioning today? How do you hold the tension between growth and appreciation for the journey?

Loving My Neighbor Through School Choice

Over the summer we were at a family gathering halfway across the country. It was a lot of catching up and conversation about education came up. A cousin asked if ours was a good school and I hesitated. Yes, our school is an incredible school! We love it and our teachers. My daughter is thriving and her curiosity is encouraged. But it’s also a school that recently went on academic probation. Our test scores are low, mostly due to the fact that we have a large immigrant and refugee population – one of the things that drew us to our neighborhood. I laughed and said, “Good is such a relative marker.”

We went on to talk about the point of education. Is it to ensure our first graders are constantly challenged or is it to build empathy? Is it to check off a list of skills our kids need to know or is it to learn to be in community, to love our neighbors? For our family, we knew we could fill in any academic gaps that may arise on our own. But it would be much harder to expose our kids to families whose values, economic capabilities, and cultural backgrounds are different from our own.

When we moved to our neighborhood, our oldest was two years old – not even in preschool yet. We knew we were moving into one of the most diverse neighborhoods in our state and also into a highly respected school district. When we walked to our neighborhood school, just a block away, on the weekends to play, we were greeted with an enormous sign, announcing its status as a “Blue Ribbon School of Excellence.”

Before having kids, I earned a master’s degree in urban education and taught for seven years at a charter school. I had studied the positive impacts of investing in neighborhood education while also working with families who had decided to choice into a different school. I enjoyed my time at a charter school, mostly because my grade level teammate was an incredible teacher. I knew the gift of working with her wouldn’t come often. Our school was a good fit for a lot of families but teaching at a charter was a reminder that there were excellent teachers there and there were people who would probably thrive in a different profession. The curriculum was good but not great. There were highly involved families and families who outsourced a lot of responsibility to the school. What I’m saying is, charter schools are not a magic cure. They have pros and cons, just like public schools.

As attendance to neighborhood public schools dwindles nationwide, my husband and I believed we were brought to our particular neighborhood for a reason. A natural outgrowth of that was to send our children to the school closest to us, where we could walk and meet other families in our area. Going to our local public school was the perfect opportunity to live out one of the Bible’s greatest commands: To love our neighbor.

Our dreams were realized at our school. Our daughter has had absolutely incredible teachers who love her and have poured into her curiosity. She has interacted with students from all over the world – over 40 cultures are represented. Just like my experience as a teacher, there are families who are highly involved and families who outsource responsibility to the school system. And they aren’t always the families you would expect.

Last year, our school went on academic probation. My husband asked if this impacted my love for our community and honestly, it made me value our school even more. When I volunteer in my daughter’s classroom each week, I see teachers who are highly committed to each and every student. When I spend each Wednesday morning teaching English to our immigrant parents, I see moms who are working hard to give their children the best opportunities. I love knowing I am raising my kids among these incredible families, regardless of what a test score shows.

I know school choice is a complex issue. There are as many reasons for choosing a school as there are schools and students. We all want what’s best for our kids. We have close friends who send their daughter to a private school that represents their minority religion and other friends who have chosen a charter school that offers Spanish immersion. We have friends who are as in love with and committed to their neighborhood schools as we are and we have friends who have chosen other options based on a variety of other needs.

As your kids enter school, I’d encourage you to ask: What motivates your school choiceIs it what’s truly best for your child and your neighbors? Is it motivated by fear of the unknown? 

Lean into where God has planted your family – perhaps there’s a reason … I know I have seen God at work in unexpected ways, right here at our neighborhood school and I am thankful I was here to witness it.

Originally posted on The MOPS Blog: http://blog.mops.org/school-choice-questions-ask/

One September Morning

I think my baby girl was about 6 weeks old when I first felt the itch to expand our world beyond the hammock in our backyard. While I loved snuggling my sweet newborn, I knew we needed a community. I was one of the first in our group of friends to have a baby and so I didn’t have a lot of stay-at-home girlfriends to lean on.

I remember typing in “MOPS near me” to Google one morning, knowing that an aunt of mine was a MOPS mentor for a group at her church in California. As little pinpoints filled the map on my screen, I wondered how I would pick one of the several groups that met within a couple miles of our house.

When my daughter woke from her morning nap, I closed my computer, packed a diaper bag with more essentials than I would ever bring with our second baby, strapped Bea into her car seat, clicked it into the stroller, and walked up the block on our first outing to our neighborhood library’s Book Babies hour.

Of course, we arrived late because that’s what moms of newborns do. As I unloaded and sat in the back of the group, a mom without a baby in her lap leaned over with a smile and welcomed me. Later, during “free play” time, she asked for my life story. Kathy is one of those women who probably knows details about everyone she’s in contact with––from regulars in the checkout line to those at her church. She has the ability to ask all the right questions and to make anyone feel safe and comfortable.

As we talked, she invited me to the MOPS group that had just started at her church. It was one of the farthest in my Google search but still only a five- minute drive from our house. I decided that this conversation was Divine Intervention. A few days later, I walked into a church and was greeted with coffee, muffins and women who wanted to know me. Kathy wasn’t there but she had told the leader about a new mom she had met at the library. This group was expecting me and I knew I had found my home.

As I sat at a table, holding my baby, watching the other moms work on a craft project, another mom asked if she could hold Bea so I could make my own craft. Before I knew it, April was bouncing her next to our table as I found myself with baby-free arms for the first time since giving birth.

It’s been seven years since that moment and I can now say with confidence, that morning was life-changing. These women have become our family’s close friends. We’ve celebrated birthdays and baby showers together, we’ve gone to each other’s homes for dinners and watch each other’s kids in a pinch. Recently, my family switched from our church of 10 years to fully commit to the community at our MOPS church. It has always been home, even though it took us time to realize that.

Looking back, that day in September seems so random. It’s rare when God speaks so loudly or so quickly to my questions. As school starts back, I’m looking for those nudges again. Where is God leading me? What relationships do I need to invest in? What volunteer opportunities will fit our family in this season? How will I look back on this season and recognize that God was speaking loud and clear?

Originally posted on The MOPS Blog: http://blog.mops.org/mops-story-one-september-morning

Learning Hospitality Through Play

This morning, the Friday of the first week of school, Elle and I visited yet another park. Nearly every day this week, we’ve explored our favorite playgrounds, trying to fill the void left by Bea’s absence at school.

Normally, I bring a book along so I can read while Elle climbs and digs and scampers around. Today, our park excursion was unexpected––halfway through a practice bike ride to her preschool, we changed course and headed to the neighborhood park instead.

Finally, Elle had my full and undivided attention. I helped her climb a tree and we then commenced in a long and often incomprehensible game about camping and sleeping that only a four-year-old could imagine and sustain for twenty minutes.

I recently read a comment by a mom whose children are in their late teens and early twenties. She was reminiscing about the little years, wishing she could go back for just one day, put aside her own desires, and simply play with her children. Nostalgia keeps us going, doesn’t it? After five eternal minutes of playing, I know I’ll look back on these days with nostalgia but I hope I have a dash of realism mixed in. Yes, I want to pay attention and be present. I totally understand the developmental importance of imaginative play and made up games. And yet, I also recognize how mind-numbing they can be.

In her new book Invited, my friend Leslie Verner quotes Henri Nouwen. In his book Reaching Out, Nouwen talks about how we as parents are hosting our children. They are our closest guests. They are not ours to control but ours to host and extend the practice of hospitality.

That idea was what kept me playing today. Not for nostalgia or because I particularly loved the game but because in so many ways, I’m learning the art of hospitality from Elle. She invited me into her world and the least I could do was join in and participate, even if just for twenty minutes.

Where have you experienced unexpected hospitality? And, do you love or loathe imaginative games with kids?

Linked with Five Minute Friday, a time to write without editing. Today’s prompt is “hospitality.”

Also, check out Leslie’s new book, Invited: The Power of Hospitality in an Age of Loneliness. Not only did I get to read one of the first drafts, I’ve had the honor of sharing conversations and playdates with Leslie as she wrote this book. It released on Tuesday and is an wonderful, encouraging look at what we can learn from other cultures about hospitality––and it doesn’t have anything to do with a beautiful table or a clean home!

Front Yard Living

At the beginning of the summer, during our daily Quiet Rest Hour, the energy in our house changed. I looked up from my book and felt that it had gone from Quiet Rest “Quiet” to eerily and suspiciously “Quiet.” I closed my book and walked upstairs where I found my oldest daughter obediently and happily reading in her room. My three-year-old was not in her room or in the playroom – our two designated Quiet Rest spots.

I looked into our garage and, sure enough, found the door open and a tricycle missing. Barefoot, I walked out to the front, crossed the street, and headed toward the most likely of our neighbors. There I found my daughter and her friend playing sweetly in the driveway. I waved to our neighbor who told me that, when asked, my daughter confirmed I knew exactly where she was.

Welcome to our neighborhood. Of the eight houses in our cul-de-sac, seven know my kids and take an interest in our daily lives. Three have an open-door policy, meaning if I can’t find my kids, I’m fairly certain where to look. But really, I know exactly where my girls are: out in the street, biking, playing, imagining, building forts, and exploring with the neighborhood kids and grandkids.

This community didn’t happen overnight. When we moved into our house in the suburbs four years ago, it was December so we didn’t have much of an idea about our neighbors. We had a good feeling – right away, people stopped to introduce themselves and I often found our driveway and sidewalk miraculously shoveled after a snowstorm. As winter merged into spring, we found ourselves outside more and more often.

Garage doors stayed open, front porches were filled in with comfortable chairs and hanging plants, and I discovered we had moved into a neighborhood of front yard people.

I responded by moving our water table to the front yard, stocking our freezer with Otter Pops, and learning the value of shifting from the backyard to the front yard. Often, my inclination is to go out back, where I can read quietly in our hammock, where my preschooler can run through the sprinklers naked, and where we have a sweet haven from the busyness of life.

Our backyard still functions as that but it has become so much more. When we intentionally decided to shift to living out front, we invited our neighbors into our lives. We met the little girl across the street, who is nearly the same age as our oldest. We met the grandparents whose grandkids often bike with our girls. We sat on front lawns and learned the stresses and joys of each other’s lives.

There’s a cost to living out front. We’ve had to navigate boundaries and space when it comes to kids trooping in and out of our side gate. On stressful days, I just want to close the door and hunker down and that’s not always possible.

Choosing community can often be messy. And yet, I wouldn’t give up that intention for the world. Now, as our kids grow and our activities have changed, we’re not just hanging out in front as often. Already I feel pangs of nostalgia as our kids get busier. I’m thankful for the newborn down the street, knowing that front yard living will continue for a few years more.

I think back to that relatively simple act of moving the water table out front and marvel at all that unfolded from there. Even as summer comes to an end and we look toward more structured days, I think about small ways I can keep my focus on our neighbors – from bringing a book or my computer out front to wave as others walk by to date nights after bedtime on the front porch rather in the backyard, I want to continue the spirit of loving my neighbors well by being present in my neighborhood.

What is one small shift you can make to live in your front yard more often? Perhaps sidewalk chalk or bubbles in the front yard will help you meet new neighbors? I am amazed at the ways the simplest acts bring about community.

Originally posted on The MOPS Blog: https://blog.mops.org/backyard-front-yard-living/

Summer Rhythms

My first summer as a new mom didn’t really feel like summer. I had been staying home nearly a year and so, as I watched moms with older kids reframe their schedules and lament the loss of alone time that school provided, our routine stayed the same. Some things did change. After attending MOPS for that entire school year, I started getting invitations for playdates. A group of moms met for weekly hikes at trails around town and I started experiencing a new world of exploration.

Now, six years later, I’m one of those moms I looked up to. The one who is restructuring schedule and figuring out how to create space for the quiet and alone time I got used to, even with just two mornings a week to myself while our youngest was at preschool.

I hesitate to give advice or share our summer routine because what works for our family could translate to the most stressful summer for yours. One thing I’ve learned over my almost-seven years of motherhood is to try to take the path that is least stressful. If I’m calm and happy, it’s likely my kids will be calm and happy.

Some of my friends make lists of things to do in the summer months so if the kids are bored, they have a preplanned set of ideas to fill the time. I recently read about a mom coordinating her days into “Movement Mondays” and “Water Wednesdays” so their weeks have a rhythm and structure. I know another mom who lets each of her four kids pick one activity they want to do during the summer. She doesn’t guarantee which day they’ll do it but she does promise to make time for those activities.

In our house, summers are for slow mornings in our pajamas, for playdates and water fun, for Costco-sized boxes of OtterPops, for riding bikes after breakfast and before dinner, for extra screen time and reading in our backyard tree castle. As my girls grow, I’m finding a natural rhythm to our days. My oldest thrives on sticker charts and created one for our fridge. I don’t know what reward she’s working toward, but she’ll tidy, sweep, and read to her sister all for the promise of an extra sticker. It works for now.

I thought I’d share a handful of rhythms we’re creating this summer. They didn’t all work last year and they most likely won’t all work next year but in this moment, they are what give me space and the structure I need in these blissfully unstructured days.

Chores Before Screen Time

Normally, I don’t link screen time to a rewards system because screen time is my time. Making my girls give it up means I’m giving up a quiet space in our day. But this year, my almost seven-year-old really wanted to start a chore chart so I did link screen time to her simple chores. Mondays she tidies the main floor, Tuesdays she sweeps, Wednesdays she cleans her bedroom. You get the idea. The baseline is minimal. If she kind of does these chores, she gets screen time. I figure anything is better than nothing and so far it’s decreased my nagging. For me, the key is trying rather than perfection. Our nearly four-year-old is off the hook for this. If she tries at all, we’re good!

Fun Meal Planning

I try to involve my kids in our weekly meal planning anyway, but summers are for saying yes to more. When my youngest asked for cake for dinner, I googled savory cakes and was amazed at the choices! This simple yes means something new in our meal rotation and it feels like a celebration. The other day we ordered pizza, spread the picnic blanket in our front yard, and had an impromptu dinner. Suddenly our normal Friday fare became an out of the norm experience. I’m trying to remember this philosophy in other areas of our days. We have to eat anyway—what’s a simple way to make a normal meal special? What are other daily tasks that can be made fun? Is there a playground next to the grocery store? Can you stop there for a few minutes before your errands? Is there an ice cream shop on the way to another place? Taking some time to mix up your routine feels incredibly special to kids of all ages.

Relaxed Rhythms

Our family works well when we’re on a rhythm rather than a strict schedule. If possible, I like to spend the first few days of summer establishing a new routine. For us, this looks like busier mornings and quieter afternoons. Even though we’re long out of the napping phase, if we’re home we practice an hour of quiet rest after lunch time. Sometimes this means going to our separate rooms with a book. The other day, my girls took their books to the backyard tree fort for the hour. Whatever we do, it has to be an activity that involves minimal interaction with me so that we can all rest.

None of these rhythms happen perfectly on any given day. But because I’m choosing to practice and model them, on those longer days it’s easier to lean into this modified schedule.

If you’re able, take five or ten minutes to think about what gives you the most energy in your mothering. If you need that hour of quiet and space every day, take the time to train your kids to give you that. It won’t be perfect but it will be better than nothing. If you thrive on activity and unique experiences, make a list with your kids and plan out some summer adventures! Just remember that whatever you choose, it has to give you joy and life.

I’m leaning into the paradox of embracing the spontaneity summer offers while creating a structure and rhythm to our days that will keep us sane and safe. It’s what works for our family in this given season and I’m remembering to listen to that more than anything.

Originally posted on The MOPS Blog: https://blog.mops.org/summer-rhythms/

Creating Space for Play and Curiosity

Now that it’s summer, the girls and I are in the car a lot together. I drive a Honda Civic, meaning that we’re in close proximity for all music choices and conversation. Recently, I’ve been reminded of what a linguistically fun season we’re in.

Elle loves separating words by syllable and then finding other words that rhyme with those syllables. Most of her rhymes are nonsense words but I love listening to how she dissects and reassembles language. I had forgotten how fun it was to hear kids puzzle out words and language.

Bea adds to our conversation by asking about the etymology of words and phrases we’re using. We wonder why we used certain words in certain ways and why some letters are pronounced differently, depending on the word’s origin. We talk about phrases and where they come from and how they’ve changed.

These conversations aren’t our norm but about once a week or so, we’ll dive into language and it’s been such a good reminder for me about the shifting nature of our communication.

This makes me especially happy because I love thinking and learning about the origins of language. Perhaps that’s why my girls love picking apart words – I happily jump into the conversation, just as curious as they are. I find the history of language fascinating and love that we’re able to reframe words and phrases every few decades or centuries.

I’ve been slowly working my way through Womanist Midrash by Dr. Wilda Gafney. She takes stories of women from the Old Testament and digs into the words and language surrounding them. Using what she calls her “sanctified imagination,” she adds to the story, creating robust narratives around forgotten and abused women. She breaks down the ancient Hebrew words and phrases and helps the reader understand the context and nuance.

Womanist Midrash is the most recent part of my journey in understanding the fluidity of language and belief. If our modern English language can ebb and change as quickly as it does, it’s no wonder there’s such mystery surrounding the language of the Bible. Yes, scholars study and understand the ancient text in its rightful context but for this lay-reader, I’m amazed at all I don’t know about what the Bible is saying, simply through the language and translations given.

A friend and I were recently talking about how we reconcile faith and politics and law. We were talking about specific current events but I think our conversation could be expanded to any sort of Biblical grappling. How do we understand what the Bible was actually saying, especially when we don’t know the language and context fully?

Our conversation made me think of the car rides with my girls, of breaking apart words and thinking about each part, in context and out of context. It made me think about the ways in which rhyming nonsense words helps build a linguistic foundation of curiosity and play which will eventually lead to fluent literacy. For now, my girls love having fun with language and giving them space to figure it out helps me remember the process rather than the outcome.

I think that’s what I’m learning about faith, too. It’s about dissecting and puzzling. Sometimes it’s about making up nonsense rhymes as I work through certain parts. Sometimes it’s turning to the experts and diving into what we do actually know about the language and culture. Either way, I’m leaning into the process. I don’t know where my outcomes will be in ten or fifty years – or maybe I’ll never know.

Maybe that’s the point. Maybe there’s enough ambiguity and space to allow for the play and curiosity. Maybe that’s what faith is all about – not necessarily finding the answers but enjoying the process of puzzling.

How do you infuse curiosity and play into your faith?