Sunday, November 6, 2016

Dear Mr. President

To the future President of the United States:

Got a few things that are heavy on our minds tonight:

  1. If you absolutely must address the nation during Once Upon a Time, could you please be sure that the episode is re-played in its entirety? We still don’t totally know what happened between Hook and his evil father. 
  2. If we must continue to fund our children’s education by cutting out tiny pink squares from yogurt boxes, then we would like to respectfully ask that you see about getting those put on more products . . . for example, if you get them on OPI nail polish, we could personally contribute a L-O-T more.
  3. From what we understand, the new "chip" inside our credit cards is supposed to be safer and more secure and protect us from identity theft (and give us good hair days and maybe eventually lead to a cure for gout). . . . but can we do something about that NOISE that happens when you don't take the card out soon enough? Maybe a nice little bell could ring instead of that "there's-a-tornado-coming" kind of sound.
  4. Solar calculators. We've nailed those. No more batteries! Now, from what we hear, the sun isn't a friend to the skin, but it provides a lovely source of natural, beachy energy, and it definitely isn't going anywhere. Can we look into solar-powered flat irons?
  5. For the love of all things pure and holy and chocolatey and cheesy, could you please speak to a few influential stylists about this skinny jean pandemic?

The Happily Parenting Team
(Looking out for moms everywhere!)


Thursday, September 15, 2016

Life Lessons on the Playground

My daughter's love life started with a nice bang in kindergarten.

Over sloppy joes one night, she casually mentioned, "I played with Micah today. He called me Cutie-Pants and said that he wants to marry me."

I got hearts in my eyes. My husband stopped eating and muttered that his stomach hurt.

Over the next few days, she revealed more about the little boy whose heart she had captured and how she felt about this new development . . . and I have to say that I love what I'm seeing so far.

First, she explained that she met him on the playground and that he was in another class. "I don't know if he ever moves his clip." Ah. She wants to know what kind of man he is. Does he make good choices? Does he raise his hand nicely or does he BLURT? Get a tissue when he sneezes? Does he ever say stupid? You see, she's never moved her clip. Ever. Even on the day when the substitute got her name wrong--she just held it all in and vented to me about it when she got home. She's got a pristine record, and she's bent on keeping it that way.

Second, she told us that she didn't notice him until he started talking to her. She was hanging with her girls talking about whether it's socially acceptable to watch Doc McStuffins after you've entered your school years. She didn't chase him--she let him come to her. And if he hadn't--well, that was just fine. That playground has a lot to offer to keep a girl busy.

Third, she mentioned that she didn't know if she liked him. Sure, he was cute. She liked his hair, and his yellow shirt was pretty fetching. But she wasn't sure if they have shared interests; plus there was still that unknown clip-moving factor. He could be a blurting tea party hater for all she knew.

Finally, she declared to me one Friday night, "Mommy, I don't think I want to marry Micah. But I'm not going to tell him. I think he'll just know after a while." She's not ready to settle down--I mean, goodness, who knows what will happen in first grade. But she's being cautious and gentle with her friend's heart.

No sense in being a Meanie-Pants about it.


Monday, August 15, 2016

Supply lists? Just say NO!

School has begun, and no doubt you probably felt the need for a vacation from the hustle before even day one. After all, there were new clothes to buy, new shoes to find, book bags and lunch pails . . . don’t forget the embroidery . . . meeting the teacher, and the LIST. That list of school supplies that seems to get longer and more specific every year.

As I also began the prep for my own two to return to school (which isn’t until September, as it should be--but that’s a post for another time), I can’t help but mourn the loss of a time when getting new school supplies meant a Trapper Keeper (if you were so lucky), Lisa Frank supplies out the ying-yang, and a few spiral notebooks and pencils.

The joy that our children will never know is getting to CHOOSE.

Nowadays, every folder’s color is predetermined by the LIST, and absolutely no input on the part of the child is considered. Herein lies a problem: as a teacher, I firmly believe that each child needs to develop a sense of independence, which includes developing good study habits. No matter how hard we try to convince ourselves otherwise, no one can organize another or develop his/her study habits, even for children. We all must do these things for ourselves, according to our own strengths, weaknesses, gifts, and abilities (many of which we are also being decided for our children--again--that's another post). Many educators and powers-that-be preach the notion of individualized learning, organizational skills, children becoming lifelong learners, and inquiry-based study. How is it that we can successfully execute any of these when we don’t even trust that our students can pick out a notebook!?

We are stripping them of the independence that we are so desperately trying to create before they’ve even walked into the classroom. It is so much more than the list; it is a sweeping state of mind when it comes to raising our children that terrifies me.

As parents and teachers, we are raising adults, for they are closer to adulthood today than they were yesterday, yet they are becoming less and less equipped to make decisions as adults. Think about it: your teenager probably can’t just go into a store and purchase a pair of jeans and t-shirt without first "selfie-ing" the moment in the dressing room, texting all of (her) friends, waiting for the yays and nays to come in, and THEN tallying these electronic ballots before making the choice to purchase. Large corporations are now starting to prohibit family members (probably mothers) from engaging in the employee/employer relationships.


As a society, we are telling our children that they are incapable of thinking for themselves, that preliminary decisions should be handled by someone other than themselves, and that they really don’t know themselves well enough to even attempt a few choices on their own . . . but at the same time, you're a genius, baby, and you need to always do what's best for you. It is maddening!

My guess is that if we went back to “the good ol' days”--before THE LIST--before everyone had www attached to nearly every facet of human interaction, before this notion that being a good parent required you to forgo absolutely any common sense and to make childhood this complicated enigma that our human race is just now learning to “deal with,” most parents would freak out . . . at FIRST . . .

I wholeheartedly believe that parents genuinely want to slow down. Mothers are tired. Husbands want their wives back. And kids really just want to be kids (minus the over-scheduled agendas and lists aplenty). It can be done, but only if we speak up, stop comparing ourselves to each other, and put what is best for our children first--even if we are the only family on the block to do so.

My prayers for this school year are that your child will have:
  • an overabundance of opportunity to falter . . . so they can pick themselves up!
  • the hidden blessing of not winning . . . so they can know determination.
  • the indescribable gift of time . . . so they can explore.
  • real-life consequences . . . so they will always know that their actions have real meaning.
This school year, step back for their sake AND yours!

Parenting should be fun. It should be enjoyable. It should be without lists.


Friday, July 22, 2016

When Sisters Don't Share Blood

Taken from the Sisterchicks novels by Robin Jones Gunn.

Sadly, I have no recollection of the first time I ever saw my husband. But I have very early memories of meeting another significant person in my life.

When I was in the 6th grade, I remember spotting a round-faced girl who was wearing hot pink stretch-waist stirrup pants; they were so pink that I saw blue spots when I blinked. She had a big smile and a nervous giggle, and that giggle was so high-pitched that I’m sure I heard at least one dog whimpering. I thought she was silly. She thought I was prissy. Two years later, in the soprano section of the 8th grade chorus, we started a friendship.

Twenty-eight years later, it’s hard for me to think of a term that describes my kinship with this girl. We have clocked thousands of hours on the phone. (When we were teens, my father would pick up the phone after one of our marathon chatfests and say, “OW! It’s still hot!”) We made fun of each other’s crushes. We prayed for each other’s future husbands and wore dorky dresses in each other’s weddings. I was in the room when her first child was born. We rocked each other’s babies and put each other down as their emergency contacts on school forms. We each think of the other’s husband as a brother. I went to my knees when her father died; she returned the favor when my mother died. We’ve pondered the Bible together, and we’ve held each other accountable when we don’t turn to it quickly enough or often enough. Honestly, I can't quickly recall too many memories that don't include her. We’re each a witness to the other’s life. We’re sisters in Christ.

If you have a daughter—whether she’s a newborn or blowing out 50 candles on her birthday cake—pray that she will have a friend like this one. BE a friend like this one. 

Girls, we need each other.

“By definition, a 'Sisterchick' is a 'friend who shares the deepest wonders of your heart, loves you like a sister, and gives you a reality check when you're being a brat.”  --Robin Jones Gunn 

Happy birthday to my Sisterchick!

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Swap Lists

Just before I got married, someone told me a story that I don’t think I’ll ever forget.

A young married couple was feeling the growing pains of adjusting to married life. Their bickering had turned into full-blown fights. But before they went to an attorney, they decided to visit a pastor.

Each one gave a laundry list of what was wrong with the other, and they both explained in great detail why divorce was the only answer. The pastor handed each one a piece of paper and said, “Write down the five biggest needs that you have.” After they completed their lists, they both started to hand them to the pastor, and he said, “Swap lists. Now go home and stay married.”

Girls, do you know what’s on his list? Does he know what’s on your list? (Don’t assume that he knows.) Swap lists. Don’t look at your list anymore—look at his. Even if he doesn’t look at yours, look at his.

Are we making marriage more complicated than it needs to be?

Swap lists.


Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Womanhood is a Marathon

My mouth dropped open when I saw the article teaser.

“Woman runs marathon without tampon to raise awareness.”

Awareness? Of what exactly?

With eyes squinting with disbelief, I clicked the hyperlink and read the article. So the story goes that this woman trained for a year to run a marathon and got her period the night before. She said that she had never run a marathon during that time, and since feminine products are uncomfortable, she dreaded using one. Then she decided to turn the event into a declaration of a social issue.

Here’s where I’m confused: raise awareness. That women get their periods once a month? Oh, dear sister, we know. HOW WELL WE KNOW. How well my husband knows. My children. My former co-workers. As Stacey once told a church packed with people, “Everyone in this room has been affected by PMS. You’re either on the giving end or you’re on the receiving end.”

Admittedly, I was raised through the efforts of three southern ladies. When I got to the age of needing such information, my mother gave me the 411 with no sugar. Yes, it hurts. Yes, it’s gross. Yes, feminine supplies are uncomfortable. 

And then she gave me the glass-half-empty news that it would definitely come on birthdays, Christmas, beach vacations, and school dance days. Didn’t she speak truth? Who’s reading this blog who has gotten it during all of those moments and more? On happy days, like the first day on the new job; on sad days, like the day you broke up with your boyfriend or the day you had to have your cat put to sleep. 

Or the day you were all signed up to run a marathon.

This publicity-loving girl also says that she wants to raise awareness that women in poor countries don’t have access to feminine products. Does anyone else feel a little insulted? I’m well aware of how fortunate I am that I can run to Walgreen’s to get the items that I need. I’m also fairly certain that if women in those poor countries had products available, they would joyfully use them. 

I don’t know about the rest of you, but I’m growing weary of a culture that constantly tells me that I’m ashamed of anything that I don’t discuss in public. Being quiet about something . . . having discussions with your husband and your closest girlfriend in hushed murmurs . . . sometimes that’s a matter of being ladylike. Showing discretion. Putting up some boundaries and insisting that some matters stay discreet. Maybe it’s also a matter of being raised to be proud of being a lady by acting ladylike. 

I have a young daughter, and I affectionately call her my “Velcro baby.” She stays close to me and imitates my habits and mannerisms. She’s captivated by all of my personal rituals. She sticks close enough that she knows when I’m not feeling my best. She’s also seen me drag out my beloved heating pad from time to time. I prefer not to tell her that I have a tummyache because then she’ll worry that I’m sick and ask me if I’m going to throw up. So I’ve told her that the little box where she used to live hurts from time to time. In a couple of years, I’ll give her the scoop—and I’ll be as honest as her Mee Mee was, but I’m going to add a little sugar to make that medicine go down. Yes, it hurts, but it also means that your body is getting ready to carry a baby someday. Yes, it comes during undesirable times, but it’ll teach you some valuable lessons in life about staying prepared, being tough, and carrying a big (cute) bag. 

I’ll also tell her that there will be many occasions in life where womanly mysteries will arise. Should I call that boy? If I buy the same necklace that my friend has, will she be angry? She can trust me to tell her all about her period (and how to keep it private), and she can also trust me to guide her in other areas as well. But she will never be taught to be ashamed of that glorious little body that God created. 


Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Cover Up

A few months ago, I saw an article about a school that held a swimming event. The school requested that girls wear t-shirts over their bathing suits for the event.

One mother publicly protested the rule because she felt that the school was going to make young girls feel ashamed of their bodies.

During my pre-teen and teen years, I was a member of the most amazing youth group—in fact, I still talk to most of my fellow members on a regular basis. We had a youth director who was quite aware of the age group he was dealing with. We went swimming on multiple occasions, and the rule was always that we were to wear t-shirts over our bathing suits.

I don’t remember feeling ashamed of my body. I don’t remember pondering, “Hmmm, what type of message does this rule send to me?” Uh—the message was something to the effect of, “Wear a t-shirt over your bathing suit and be ready at 1:00.” Period. It never occurred to me (and certainly not to my mother) to question that rule (or any other rule that he made for that matter). Frankly, knowing me, I probably had picks on the seat of my bathing suit from sitting at the edge of the pool last year anyway, so it was probably a relief. I don’t remember the details. But I do remember that all I could think about was a whole afternoon of swimming with my friends. Put on a t-shirt? Okay. Will there be brownies there like last time?

My daughter is in the pre-school age range now, but when she enters the pre-teen years, I hope she’s fortunate enough to have a youth pastor who is as protective as the ones I had. I PRAY that she does. I will urge her to cover up that little body of hers. Out of shame? Absolutely not. I want her to know that her body is a precious treasure. 

Come on, girls. No matter what size we are, deep down, we know the value of our bodies. Didn’t ol’ John Mayer call us a “wonderland”? Putting a t-shirt over a swimsuit is a little like an artist who puts a drape over his painting until he chooses to reveal it at his art show. Is he ashamed of it? Or is the painting so precious that he’s a little picky about how and where and when it’s revealed—and to whom?


Thursday, May 12, 2016

The Lesson My Mother Taught Me at a Funeral

My mother had a couple of difficult family relationships, but probably the hardest one of all was the one she had with her mother-in-law.  (I say her mother-in-law—not my grandmother--because my mother re-married when I was nine years old. We don’t use the term “step-father,” so I will refer to him as my dad, but I never enjoyed a relationship with his mother.)  Here’s why.

(I’ve read over 200 children’s books this year, so please forgive the following analogy, but I think this will be clear.)

She fell out of a mean tree and bumped every branch on the way down.

She never accepted my mother, and she definitely didn’t accept me. During every holiday, not only was she short with my mother, but she also made rude, inappropriate, and downright mean comments to her—and the comments were generally so out of left field that they revealed how very little she even knew about my mother. Honestly, these short holiday visits could probably fall under the category of verbal abuse.

And it wasn’t just that she was mean to my mother—she was hateful to her own children also. The stories from their childhood would simultaneously break your heart and curdle your blood.

Mom did the best she could, but the visits put a strain on her mind and a bigger strain on their marriage. Finally, during my early teens, she declared that she had had enough, and the visits ended. Once I got my driver’s license, I offered to drive my dad (he doesn’t drive due to his vision) to his mother’s house and let Mom stay at home.

When I was about 23 years old, Mom updated me that her mother-in-law had cancer and that her condition was very serious. A few months later, she called to tell me that she had passed away.  I offered to keep my much-younger brother, who was about 7 at the time. I took a day off from work, made plans with my little brother, and left the funeral plans to my parents.

I later found out that they were the first to arrive at the funeral home. The funeral director, of course, had no idea what the relationship was (or was NOT), so she rushed over to Mom and said, “Oh good, I’m so glad to see a lady!” And then she told my mother that she needed a dress and underclothes for burial.

At that moment, no one would have blamed my mother for declining. No one would have blamed her for telling the funeral director to use a dress from their donation pile. No one would have blamed her for making a run to Wal-Mart and buying a cheap dress.

Instead, my mother gathered my dad and his two brothers in their mother’s bedroom, and she had them stand there as she held up dress options.  Do you like this dress? Did she like this one? Do you recognize this one? What color did she like best? (This was the funny part where she discovered that all three sons are pretty seriously colorblind.) She finally chose a dress that they all liked.

Then my mother went into her late mother-in-law’s panty drawer. She dug through a drawer of old, worn-out panties that belonged to a bitter, angry woman. She chose the nicest pair she could find—the pair that had no tears or worn-out elastic or faded color.

“Do good to those who hate you.”

A thousand Sunday School lessons could never have taught me what my mother taught me that day—and I’m glad to say that I told her so. I honestly don’t know that I would have acted in such a loving way. She treated her frightening mother-in-law with the same honor, respect, and reverence that she would have used for her own mother. Her actions that day consisted of forgiveness, kindness, and grace.

In other words . . . being a lady.