Kids Driving You Nuts? Make ‘Em Laugh.

Kids Driving You Nuts? Make ‘Em Laugh.

Can you make your kids laugh?

Allow me to rephrase.

Do you make your kids laugh?

I am not widely considered to be a funny person, but I have found that making my kids laugh is one of the most underrated joys of parenthood.

It also happens to be the perfect antidote for my own bad moods.

We’re a little more than halfway through spring break and the kids are very PRESENT. With me 24-7. And I’m an introvert. I REALLY like my time alone.

You can see the potential for conflict here.

But lately, I’ve been reminded of a delightful truth: grace can even take the form of humor.

When I’m my most cranky and selfish – the moments when I want to go hide in a long bath, read my novel, and paint my toenails over and over again – those are the times when I find that humor helps the most.

And how does a non-funny woman become a comic for her kids?

I do something out of character.

A case in point: I have been known to dab for laughs.

I know, I know – it’s a 2015 move. (I think?) It’s not au courant. Cam Newton and the rest of the cool people have moved on. But that’s why it’s funny.

Do things your kids think you don’t know about in an untimely fashion (and out of the sight of their friends) and they’ll think you’re hilarious.

A few weeks back, it was just me and my two boys at dinner. The conversation was not award-winning and my mood could generally be described as testy, so to counter its effects I did the unthinkable – I dropped my fork and punctuated a sentence with a dab.

Four eyebrows were raised.

“Mom?!” they asked incredulously as I went back to eating.

“What’s up with you?!” I asked them, dropped the fork again, and jerked my arms back toward the ceiling.

They started to choke in fits of giggles. So I kept it up, telling them about something (I don’t even remember what), and ending each sentence with the trademark move.

Milk and water were snorted and tomato sauce spilled on the floor.

Silliness won the day.

And grace won too.

Like so many adults, I get caught up in my thoughts rather than allow myself to just move freely from one moment to the next, embracing the possible spark of joy that each moment holds.

I spend so much time considering the past or ruminating on the future that I miss the NOW.

So this spring break, I’m trying to allow humor to work its magic, because the joy I give to others bounces back and rejuvenates me.

My youngest is whining and says he’s bored, and man, I hate it when he does that. I tackle him as he walks by me, pin him to the floor, and tickle him until he shrieks in laughter.

My tween daughter is making a private Musically video to “Firework” AGAIN, and so I act it out with her, throwing myself in front of her iPad camera like I’m Katy Perry gone psycho.

Tired of the same-old, tired of yourself, and tired of your own foul mood?

Mix it up and and do something I’m sure you’ve done at some point before.

Surprise the ones you love with a move that’s hilariously out of (your) character. It’s a gesture of spiritual generosity you’re not likely to regret.

Who Gives the Best Pep Talks? Total Surprise.

Who Gives the Best Pep Talks? Total Surprise.

For the most part, my kids hang together well. But other days I worry about whether they’ll be on speaking terms when they grow up. They bicker and taunt each other. They mimic one other until someone is yelling and slamming a door. Sarcastic comments have led to hurt feelings. They are not unique kids; they are American siblings. And I am always listening to my own inner voice that tells me when I need to intervene and when I shouldn’t. It’s a learning process for all of us.

Then – once in awhile – they surprise me completely.

Saturday, my 12 year-old daughter and I were in Pittsburgh for an Irish dance competition. She was tired because we’d gotten in late the night before, and after lunch she still had two dances to go when I told her:

“Don’t use up the tank on this third one. Save it. And then just give it all you’ve got for hornpipe.”

Hornpipe was the dance she wanted to win. She’d been dancing well all day, but this last dance was the one she needed to finish off her current level and move closer to becoming a champion.

“Mom,” she said, “You’re really bad at giving pep talks.”

“What?!!” I feigned surprise.

She smiled.

“You don’t want to hear from me?” I continued, knowing full well she really doesn’t, but by that exhausted point, I was clueless about what to say next.

“How about Dad? Does he give good pep talks?”

“Not really.”

“Huh. Who does?”

Then – shocker of them all – she mentioned her older brother.

“Really?!!? What does he say?” I couldn’t imagine a 15-year old being a font of wisdom.

Giggling for the first time in hours she said, “Stuff like, ‘Kick the dancer in front of you.’”

“Oh!” I laughed, “That would never occur to me.”

“Of course not, Mom! You’re you.”

She got in line for her third dance and I texted her brother, saying his words were needed.

Right away he responded with this.

I stared at my phone like it was the best Christmas present I’d ever received.

You are going to do great…I have faith in you…

Did I read that right?

I read it again. And again.

After she came back, I handed her my phone and told her to call her brother. She snatched it with gusto.

A few minutes later she returned, laughing and smiling broadly. Her brother’s encouragement strengthened the words of his text, and hearing his voice soothed her soul. Just like that – he had completely changed her day.

Parents are a family’s leaders. But we often feel sidelined, taken for granted, and forgotten. Most of our work is unseen. While we may ultimately be remembered for the jobs we dutifully perform to provide, to feed, to enable participation and so forth, we are seldom thanked for the even more important work we do: building character in our kids, and showing them how to forge relationships in their lives. 

When was the last time you heard a kid say, “Thank you for teaching me forgiveness and gratitude. I really love my sister/brother”?

Yet this is what we do, every time we speak to our kids about why we treat one another with respect and love, and why we expect them to behave with decency and goodness.

Instilling virtue in kids is like throwing cooked spaghetti at the wall. Do it enough and eventually a piece sticks.

Or so I keep telling myself.

It had been awhile since I’d seen a reminder that this was still truth.

My daughter’s hornpipe dance was absolutely beautiful – probably the best I’d ever seen her do it. And her smile and posture – my gosh….She was on fire with joy.

In the end, she got fourth place. Not the first she wanted, but she had no regrets and had made no mistakes. Judging is a little subjective, and she’ll get her first another day.

And on that day, her brother will be cheering for her while I root for the two of them, from the sidelines.

How to Help Your Kid With Homework

How to Help Your Kid With Homework
Photo by Angelina Litvin, Unsplash.com

My oldest is a high school freshman, and since it’s September, we’re in a transition time. Last night things got pretty intense. The workload reached a crescendo and there was a math test scheduled for this morning. He got home from crew practice at 6:30, plunged right into his work, and was cursing loudly in frustration – way up in his room – by the time dinner was ready at 7:30. I knew we were in for a long night.

But rather than let him tough it out, I proposed a different solution. “Bring it down to the kitchen,” I said. “Let’s look at it together.”

He knew I wouldn’t do it for him. And the truth was, the content was not at all beyond his capability. And I told him so.

“You know this stuff. You can do it. You just don’t like the quantity or the methodology.”

All in all – across two subjects – it was about 8 pages, required to be handwritten, and admittedly, his handwriting is abysmal.

What to do for him?

Just BE with him.

I fell back on a lesson I learned fourteen years ago.

In 2003, our extended family lost a precious member, my husband’s cousin, P.J.. I’ve written about the loss of him before. After the funeral, P.J.’s mother (my husband’s aunt) asked us to bring our son (the same one now doing homework) to their home where the family was gathering informally. We ended up being the last guests there. Our infant son fell asleep on Aunt Karen and Uncle Jim’s bed while the four of us stood over him watching – for what may have been 15 minutes – in silence.

I called my mom the next day.

“I didn’t know what to say,” I told her, “The grief is unimaginable. They just lost their son. I can only imagine they were thinking about him as they looked at ours. I had no words to console them.”

My mom replied, “Just being present is a ministry.”

I have never forgotten that.

Just being present to someone in need is a ministry.

So last night, I was fully present to my son.

No phone.

No books.

Nothing but him and me.

I made tea for him – with lemon and honey.

Gave him cookies.

Reminded him to breathe.

Read the directions to him again and again, but didn’t do the work for him.

Told him stories from my high school days to make him smile and reassure him that yes, he will survive even this.

And I lasted with him until bedtime at 11:00 – 1 1/2 hours later than usual for him.

Being present is a ministry.

And you are fully equipped for the job.

Who needs your ministry now?

Geometry Lesson

imageOh my gosh it was hard.

It was all I could do to stay calm.

Truly – I thought I might rip my hair out.

Or break my own fingers in frustration.

The situation? Helping my oldest son study for a geometry test.

It wasn’t the material that was difficult. It was my boy.

He was angry about having to study. Seeing nothing but red because he didn’t like the questions. Literally throwing his hands up in the air and raising his voice in contempt – at the book – and me.

The triangles on the page were congruent, but he and I were emphatically not.

His temper when he’s threatened surges – just like mine.

But there was hope and I so desperately wanted him to see it.

“What you already know – in part – can help you move forward.”

I whispered words over him.

“Take the information you are given and work it step-by-step to arrive at the answer.”

“Breathe. Believe you can follow the path to the end – and you will.”

“The given clues and the ones you uncover are guides, pointing you toward where you need to go.”

I wanted him to see that I could meet him in all the angles he was trying.

Because I’ve been there. Walked this same path. And he is like me.

I GET him and I GET the struggle.

And as I sit here today and pray for patience and for my son to do his best, it occurs to me that there is a corollary. Another similarity.

The Lord looks down on me and says, “Why do you think I came?”

 

The Bucket

“I have an invisible bucket.”

This got my attention. And what he’d said was so much more interesting than The Washington Post article I was reading about the latest hate-filled thing Donald Trump had said.

I looked up from the paper, over the lunch dishes, and across the table at my 5-year old son.

“You do?”

“Yes,” he continued, “with me all the time.”

“Oh! That’s right,” I replied in a sing-song mommy voice, now remembering the special book he’d been taught at the beginning of the school year.

Fill a Bucket by Carol McCloud explains that we all carry a bucket with us each day. It can be filled with good things or bad things, and its contents are mostly determined by us. Yet we can help others fill their buckets by speaking to them kindly and showing love through our actions. Others can do the same for us. Negative words and the like have the opposite effect – they empty peoples’ buckets. But the secret jewel in living life knowing about these invisible buckets, is that you can enrich your own – that is, you can fill your own bucket – by filling others’ with love.

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For whatever reason, I wasn’t feeling especially loving that day, and the article I was reading was probably draining my bucket a bit. But the good news is that the work we do as parents day in and out can pay off when we least expect it.

“So,” I said, “What’s in your bucket today?”

He climbed down from his chair, took a couple steps over and put his face very close to mine.

“So much goodness.”

I wrapped my arms around him, buried my face in his neck, and kissed his little ears and cheeks until he wriggled free, giggling, “Mommy, Stop! Stop! Stop!”

My bucket was filled for days.

May these words of my mouth and this meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer.

– Psalm 19:15

Anything to Get to My Son’s Heart

I went into my son’s room just now to get this picture. My focus was really going to be on those two albums to the right – by TobyMac and Skillet. But one of our dogs followed me in and the picture turned out this way, which I think is kind of cute.

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See how her right ear is flipped out?  She’s a dog in motion, about to leave the frame to go sniff the pile of dirty clothes behind her and then settle in on that pillowy blue chair on the left side of the photo – all because these things are comfortable smells that remind her of my son. She likes to be around him. So do I.

And that’s a great thing. I’m savoring it because he’s 12 and I’m not sure what the teen years will bring. But I can tell you what he and I share right now. Music.

I was taking him to Tae Kwon Do practice last week, when “We Won’t Be Shaken” by Building 429 came on the radio. My son absentmindedly began singing. Strangely, the car was quiet. His siblings were both lost in their own thoughts. My son didn’t realize I was listening to him. Singing. Every. Word. Right. To. The. End.

When you finish reading here, click on the YouTube link below and listen. Perhaps you’ll understand why I was hiding my eyes, filled with tears of joy, when he hopped out of the car a minute or so later.

When my kids are in the car, I listen to either Christian or classical music, with few exceptions. Yes, I enjoy other genres of music and need my daily dose of news (when young ears aren’t listening), but I like the atmosphere that this music creates as we go about our activities together. And I also believe that the media we consume has an effect on what we feel, think, and become.

Scripture confirms this.

“The lamp of the body is the eye. If your eye is sound, your whole body will be filled with light; but if your eye is bad, your whole body will be in darkness. And if the light in you is darkness, how great will the darkness be.” (Matthew 6:22)

The things we look at, read, and examine closely make their way into the fabric of our being and either work for good, or not. The books we read, shows we watch, music we hear, people we spend time with, matter. We need to choose wisely.

When I was about my son’s age, my dad gave me some Christian music that I listened to frequently. He had taken some time to figure out what was popular with young people in the 80s, and made selections that he thought I might like. He did a good job. The words of those songs made their way into my heart. I didn’t stay with the faith through my tumultuous teen and college years, but the lyrics I had learned and the Truth they spoke of, never left me. And when I was finally ready to turn toward the loving whisper that was gently beckoning me, I knew those songs had played an important role in my faith formation. To this day, “El Shaddai” by Amy Grant is still one of my favorites.

So, I’m listening to the radio, and to my kids, paying attention to which artists, both secular and Christian, they are responding to. And I’ve gone out on a limb and bought my son, and my daughter, CDs I think they’d enjoy with messages I’d like them to hear. I’ve been blessed for my efforts, because they are playing those CDs, singing along, engraving Truth on their hearts without even realizing it. Some of this music isn’t exactly my taste, but it’s definitely grace in action.

Sonatina

 

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sonatina (n.) – a musical composition, a short version of a sonata, which consists of three or four independent movements varying in key, mood and tempo.

I’m at my daughter’s piano lesson. Her teacher is coaching her through her very first sonatina, and they have been replaying a tiny section for 20 minutes now. The teacher, firmly but lovingly instructs in Russian-accented English.  She softly sings the melody, claps out the changing tempo, encourages, challenges, compliments…

“Your goal is to play correctly……So beautiful….Let’s grow through this phrase….Good job…..Listen…..Okay, start again. Concentrate……Crescendo will come….Just relax….Don’t rush……Good…Ok, not so loud. How will you grow?…..Again, look just ahead…..Very nice!!”

They are building upon the sections my daughter has learned in the past few weeks, and on skills she has acquired in her four years of music study. My daughter is 9, and her teacher and I have discussed this many times: the goal here is not to produce a professional musician. The goal is to foster the love of music my girl was born with, and to inspire within her a lifelong appreciation of this particular art.

Yet, my daughter also seems to have an ability for this instrument, an aptitude, maybe a gift. I don’t want her to squander it by ignoring it in favor of short-term pursuits. But in her immaturity, she goes back and forth between listening to me and ignoring me. And she has a short attention span – not long-range vision. So I remind her to, and on occasion make her, practice. Then practice a little more. See, I think she could play for her family, friends, or a church far into the winter of her life.

And this – this lifelong ideal of musical love and development – is why gentle encouragement is so important. If her teacher and I push her too hard, there’s a very real risk she’ll lose her joy for playing. And if it sounds like I’m overthinking this, it’s because I know I could so easily push my expectations and hopes onto this child, and I also know that in all likelihood, I will (or have already) said the wrong thing to her at some point. The voices she hears in her mind as she plays echo those she hears as she learns.

I’m sure I’ve failed in my pursuit to find the perfect balance between affirmation and pressure. But I keep going, believing I’m a better mother for focusing on my goal, which was affirmed for me once again in my Bible study this morning while reading these verses.

Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.

– Philippians 3:12-14

The fact is – I am a work in progress. My life is about growing up and into the state I’ve been called to live in – holiness. And I don’t say that in a lofty sort of way, because I believe everyone is called to holiness. We are designed, from before our very conception, to seek union with God in Heaven, and in this life, all our other attempts to find complete satisfaction and perfection will fail. So until my time comes, I press forward, keeping my eyes on this prize.

If I were left alone to strive for holiness, I would be making even more cacophonous noise in my life than I already do. Because though I may sometimes say the right things to my daughter, for example, my words alone don’t reveal the full intentions of my heart. As a sinner, my heart and mind continue to mess up, because I stubbornly continue to rely on my strength to be a ‘good’ mother, wife, friend, or Christian.

But I’m not alone. My Teacher, the one who sings me the tunes I’m trying to play and coaxes me through endless repetitions of sticky, challenging, and seemingly redundant notes in a life that constantly changes tempo, mood, and key, is faithfully patient. Best of all, He is forgiving – endlessly willing to start with me again when I make mistakes and don’t practice what I’m learning. The Holy Spirit nudges me to pass on the treasures of these holy lessons …to a daughter who listens, albeit imperfectly – just like me.