Asking Important Questions

Zach thinks internally for extended periods of time.  He ponders deeply and teases out all of the options and works through all of that information inside his mind.  He doesn’t often share his thoughts directly, but he asks a LOT of questions.  If you are willing to put in the time and effort to read between the lines, you can catch glimpses of what he’s thinking about.

This morning he asked two very important questions.

1.  Mom, is it a rule that we HAVE to go to church?

We were getting ready to leave for church and everyone was in various stages of getting dressed or eating breakfast or finding shoes.  Important questions from my kids are rarely timed to those few moments that I am available to think clearly and share from my heart. 🙂  I could have said, “Yep, in this house, it’s the rule!” or some other version of the My House/My Rules parenting practice.  But he wasn’t asking if I expect him to go to church.  Zach wanted to know if God expected him to go to church.  And that’s an entirely different question!

I have learned to pause when I’m having an important conversation and think before I speak.  (I have NOT yet learned to pause when I’m angry and think before I speak… I’m still working on that life skill).  But I took that moment to think, and then I answered my inquisitive son.

“No, honey.  It’s not a rule.  You don’t HAVE to go to church.”

Cue the ominous music!  Just kidding.

I followed up with, “We don’t go to church because we HAVE to.  We don’t HAVE to!  God doesn’t make us go to church – He wants us there because our hearts want to be with Him.  We go to church because He loves us and we love Him and we are in His family, so we want to spend time together with Him and His other kids, just like in any family.”

Zach proceeded to announce that he didn’t want to go to church today.  He explained that he didn’t want to go, that he would rather stay home, and that he just didn’t feel like going to church.

Again, I could have pulled rank and said, “Tough tooties, Buddy, you’re going to church!”  You know, the whole My House/My Rules bit.

But Matt and I work hard to let our kids have a voice and we value their real thoughts and feelings.  If I shut down Zach’s real thoughts and feelings when he shares them, I can kiss his willingness to talk to me goodbye!  It’s already a rarity to hear from him; I want him to experience my delight in his willingness to share himself.

I thanked him for telling me how he felt and just barely managed to avoid saying, “You’re still going, but good job sharing!  Now get in the car!”  Something made me pause and wait, and I think that something was actually a Someone.  I needed to listen to my son, and God was nudging my heart to wait it out.

Zach said that he knew we go to church to learn about God, but that he wanted to stay home and read his Bible.  That way, he would still get the results but not have to go.  He has carefully thought this through, hasn’t he?

I agreed with him that we DO go to church to learn about God.  But a big part of learning about God is being with Him in community with the rest of His family.  So we need to go be with God at church, but we also need to be with the other people there, because they love Him too.  And we need to take care of each other – how will we love them if we don’t get to see them?  And how will they love us and take care of us if they don’t get to see us?

Zach nodded and didn’t have anything further to say.  He went and got his shoes on and seemed ready to leave whenever we all managed to get ourselves out to the van.

I called him back over because I wanted to summarize for him.  “Zach, you are right.  We can read the Bible to learn about God.  And I LOVE that you read your Bible and learn all the time!  That is definitely something that we can do by ourselves and it is important to do.  But that’s just one of the important things that we can do at church.  If we are in God’s family, He is with us wherever we are.  But we also need to go be together with other people who love Him and learn together.”  My sweet son smiled his standard “Got it, Mom, let’s move on!” smile and said, “Okay, Mom.”  And that was that.

I am so grateful for his question!  I love having a glimpse into his thought process.  I also know that many, many people who love God ask that same question:  Do I really need to be IN church?  Because I can get the same thing on my own as I get at a church.  These conversations need to happen in the safety and openness of our home throughout our kids’ lives so that a) they know it is important to ask those hard questions, and b) we can gauge their hearts and determine what we need to say in that moment to answer their questions.  “You’re going to church!” is not an answer.  That’s a rule.  I’ve fought a long time to escape the slavery of the rules that have been associated with Christianity!  I do NOT want to pass that along to my children!  So no, we don’t HAVE to.  But we love to go to church.  We love to be with Him wherever we are, and we love to be with Him in a pile of other broken people who love Him too.  And seriously, if you are looking for a pile of broken people, the Church is the FIRST place to look!  We are all a mess!  But Jesus knows that.  And we know it too.  And we are trusting Him to take our broken shards of disaster and restore us into the breathtaking beauty of a mosaic in His Master Artist hands.  Each piece of glass needs to be there or the picture isn’t complete.  Your sharp edges belong right next to mine… and Zach’s sharp edges belong there with us too.

Zach’s second important question happened in the car on the way to church.  The twins get an allowance every week (Nathaniel will start getting one when he begins kindergarten, just like they did) and they divvy it into “for God,” “for savings,” and “for spending” piles.  The “for God” pile has been accumulating for about a month because we keep forgetting to have them bring it with them to church!  We finally remembered this morning, and the twins had a handful of quarters and a few dollar bills that they have been saving.  And then Zach said the following:

2.  Mom, how do we give this money to God?  Like, does someone at our church go up in a spaceship to take it to Him?  How do we know if He gets the money when we give it at church?

Seriously, people!  I need a break between these brilliant questions!  He was just firing off big ones today!

I laughed and agreed that it would be SUPER COOL if we got to take it in a spaceship up to God, wouldn’t it?  Then I explained that when we give money to a church, we are trusting them to use it for things that God would want.  Rissa said, “Yeah, if they took it home and spent it on toys or something, we couldn’t trust them!”  And Zach said, “Yeah, the managers at the church would have to be responsible because that’s God’s money!”  I told them that I’m sure that those bad things happen at some places and that is NOT okay.  I also explained that we would not give money somewhere that wasn’t using it for things that God cares about.

Then we talked about the things that God cares about.  Loving people, telling people that God wants to know them and for them to know Him, taking care of people who need things that we can give them.  We are trusting the people at our church to do good things with God’s money.

On the way home, I had the chance to thank Zach for asking such an important question!  We ALL need to ask that question, and I’m so proud of him for wanting to make sure that the money he was giving to God was actually going to a good place.

Matt reminded the kids that all of everything belongs to God – God doesn’t need our money to come up to Him in a spaceship because He already has everything everywhere!  And God doesn’t need our money down here either!  It all already belongs to Him.  But when we remember that it is His and we make sure that the first part of our money goes to God and the things He cares about, it helps us live our lives in a way that is focused on caring about important things.  Mommy and Daddy do that too – we give God the first part of our money to help us remember that it is already His!

The kids and I heard a song on the radio this week that we had never heard before.  They often ask me what a song means or what the musicians are singing about.  I had to stop and listen because I didn’t know since I hadn’t heard this one before.  Here are the first few lyrics:

I woke up this morning
Saw a world full of trouble now
Thought, how’d we ever get so far down
How’s it ever gonna turn around
So I turned my eyes to Heaven
I thought, “God, why don’t You do something?”
Well, I just couldn’t bear the thought of
People living in poverty
Children sold into slavery
The thought disgusted me
So, I shook my fist at Heaven
Said, “God, why don’t You do something?”
He said, “I did, I created you”

This morning as we talked on the way home, I reminded the Tinies that we heard that song – that God DID do something!  He sent Jesus to be our connection to God so that we can be restored to His family, even though our sins separate us.  And He made us and put His heart into ours so that we can love and care like He does!  He doesn’t need our money for Him – He needs us to share ourselves (including our money) to meet the needs that others have!  So instead of asking why doesn’t God fix that, we can go help and know that this is something that God cares about.  And for whatever reason, God chooses to people as His hands and feet.  More lyrics:

I’m so tired of talking
About how we are God’s hands and feet
But it’s easier to say than to be
Live like angels of apathy who tell ourselves
It’s alright, “somebody else will do something”
Well, I don’t know about you
But I’m sick and tired of life with no desire
I don’t want a flame, I want a fire
I wanna be the one who stands up and says,
“I’m gonna do something”
But we’re never gonna change the world
By standing still

The kids said, “Yeah!  God did do something!  He made US!”

The Olson Tinies rock my world every single day.  I have no doubt that God will rock the whole world with them and people like them – by placing His heart into their hearts!  And isn’t that what God does with all of us as He transforms us?  He takes our hardened hearts of stone and gives us a live, beating heart that looks like His.  I love Zach’s two important questions.  I love our family that God made.  And we are altogether incapable of standing still. 🙂

One of our Fights

In this post, I’m going to give you an insider’s glimpse into the dysfunction of my marriage and family.  You’d never discover this information unless we chose to share it, and most people would choose not to reveal these things about themselves.  But I think honesty (KIND honesty) is likely to be helpful!  And you’ll see the beauty of our marriage and family too.  And even if this does nothing for those who read it now, I want to document it for my kids.  Because this blog is for them… even though I hardly find time to write here anymore!

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Olson Tinies, someday, when you read this and are no longer tiny, you will be reminded that your parents fought when you were little.  We aren’t there yet, but I’m guessing it is a pretty sure bet that your parents fought when you were big too.  And of course you remember – you lived here while it happened!  When you remember that we fought/still fight, I hope you also remember that we came to find you afterward so we could talk to you about it.  Because the fears you imagine and the unknowns you cannot name are far more terrifying than whatever is really happening, and we know that.  So we told you what was going on, and even  more so as you got bigger and could understand.  You might also remember that you were welcome to weigh in, never during, but always after the fight once we told you about it.  And you did weigh in – you bravely pointed out how we both contributed to the problem, whatever it was.  And we talked about it.  If nothing else in this family, we TALK about things, don’t we?  That’s because we love each other.

The other day, Mommy and Daddy had a fight about vacuuming the van, or so it would appear.  But we never actually fight about things, issues, topics…  I can’t imagine that many people do.  If we look closely, we notice that we fight about people, specifically, we fight for people.  And most often, we fight for ourselves.  Some facet of our personhood is being questioned or damaged, and our feathers get ruffled, and we step up to fight!  Defend!  Set things right!  When we do this on behalf of someone else, it is a good thing.  When we fight for someone who cannot or will not fight for themselves, we are laying ourselves down and instead picking up the cause of someone because they matter.  They have value and we see it in them, even if they don’t see it in themselves.  We are so proud every time each of you has done that!  But when we fight on behalf of ourselves, our selfishness gets in the way and muddles things up.  Are we doing good?  Or just defending our pride?  It’s often hard to tell.

I called Daddy and told him that we were going to clean out the van after lunch.  It took a long time!  We emptied out all of the trash.  We collected all of the toys and artwork and random items that were worth keeping but had been forgotten in our van.  We took out the booster seats and CLEANED.  We used Clorox Wipes and worked on the windows and the cup holders and all the nooks that collect junk.  We even vacuumed with the wet/dry vac!  It took a long time, we did it in the hot sun, and we worked as a team.

I called Daddy again to tell him about our hard work.  The wet/dry vac hadn’t really done a thorough job, so I told him that we were going to take the van to a detailing place.  He immediately responded to a secret fear that cropped up – he didn’t want to spend money unnecessarily.  He didn’t know how hard we had worked and that the wet/dry vac wasn’t sufficient.  But without realizing it, he believed I was asking him to be flippant with money, and his feathers ruffled and he was not going to let that happen!  Instead of directly telling me that he was concerned about the money so that we could talk about it further, he started making various excuses about why we couldn’t and wouldn’t be taking our van to get vacuumed.  These excuses included questioning my credibility to make this decision, whether we had done good enough work in the first place and were just being lazy and passing it off to a professional instead of working hard ourselves, questions about cost, questions about whether their equipment was any better than what we had at home, and other things I don’t remember now.

That triggered two of my secret fears – I was being treated unfairly and someone considered me inferior when compared to them.  My feathers were ruffled and I set out to prove that of COURSE I knew what I was talking about and we WERE going to do this because I said so.  I systematically found the flaw in each random excuse Daddy listed, readily proved that this was doable, practical, and definitely going to happen, and even researched our community for places to take the van.  I found one, and they closed in 40 minutes.  This was a problem because I couldn’t drive the van over myself and leave you all at home (the booster seats were out and staying out until the vacuuming was finished) and Daddy would have to hurry home to switch vehicles, then hurry across town to get the van there before the business closed.  He didn’t think it could be done, and I decided that it had to be done and Daddy had to do it.

And I was making excuses too for why Daddy had to do it.  It did make more sense since I had all 3 of you home and no good way to get you there without reinstalling carseats that are time-consuming to install safely.  But those were excuses, because my real reason was that if Daddy didn’t take it there himself, he would question me again and I was tired of defending my intelligence and ability.  So he drove home, switched vehicles, made it in time, and got the van taken care of, all for a very reasonable price.

Since his real concern was spending money unnecessarily and that had been avoided AND the van was now beautifully vacuumed, he felt that resolution had been met when he got home.  However, since my real concern was that I was treated as an inferior, I was hurt and angry when he got home.  He wanted to know why I had been so crabby on the phone; I wanted to know why he thought it was okay to talk to me like I’m a moron who can’t think anything through for myself and needs to be told what to do.  I was crushed by his perception of me.

I did a lot of yelling.  To his credit, Daddy had already grown immensely in actually acknowledging the places that he was at fault, and he saw what really happened.  He saw that his fear about wasting money was more important to him than treating me respectfully and approaching this and every situation as partners.  He saw that his lack of trust in my ability to manage the details of our life was irrational and also damaging to me.  He saw that he makes up random crap to constitute excuses for why he doesn’t want to do something rather than just tell me his actual concerns.

Before Daddy got home and I yelled, I actually handled everything really well.  I showed myself to be a good household manager, I did the majority of the hard work with the help of my awesome kids, and I planned and executed the final piece.  But then I yelled.  And everything I said was true and applicable and I shared my feelings, but I was sinfully angry and more than willing to stomp on Daddy while trying to tell him that he is not allowed to stomp on me!  And no one should be stomping on anyone in this family.  I felt justified in my anger and I was defending my personhood and I was making sure Daddy knew he wouldn’t get away with treating me so badly, so I told myself that yelling was okay.  I believed that I could yell however much was “necessary” to make myself heard.  That’s a lie, and I believed it.

When we sat down to eat dinner (late, because you guys had to wait for us while we worked through all of that), we talked to you about it.  We explained that Daddy said some really mean things about us not doing good enough work on cleaning the van.  All 3 of you were rightfully offended, and you said various versions of, “Daddy!  That is not nice to say!  We did a GREAT job!  The vacuum couldn’t get everything, but we still tried really hard!”  And Daddy apologized and you said it was okay and Daddy said, “It’s not okay, but I’m really glad that you forgive me.”  When we prayed before we ate, one of you asked God to help you not be so mad at Daddy for saying something rude.  And I was struck by how I should have prayed that exact thing back before I started yelling!  We learn so many things from our amazing kids.

We also explained that I had been yelling a lot at Daddy about what he said, which you knew, so you all nodded and agreed that my yelling was a bad choice and not okay either.  And Daddy said that he is working on being a partner and not trying to be in charge of everything and take over and tell other people that they can’t do good work unless he does it for them.  And I said that I am working on talking about things without yelling, because that makes things much worse instead of better.  You nodded your support of us and our need to work on the areas where we sinned.

And then the most amazing thing happened.  You listened and understood the situation first, and then you graciously joined us.  One of you kids pointed out that you were working on whining.  One of you was working on being okay with not being perfect and accepting your mistakes.  And one of you was working on obeying.  After we had all shared because you were willing to be vulnerable too, Rissa said, “See!  We ALL have things that we are working on!”  And that was that.  We’re a mess, we’re working on it, it’s hard, but we’re in this together.

And that’s why we come and explain things to you kids.  Yes, it is important for you to know that our family has a real marriage where Mommy and Daddy make real mistakes.  And we need to admit those to each other and to you, because you have to live with the consequences of our bad choices too.  But you also have incredible insight into your own hearts as well as the workings of our family.  And you model partnering to us by being vulnerable and joining us when we admit our wrongs.  And we model partnering to you by coming to you as your parents and acknowledging our wrongs.  And then we all grow.

The very next day, someone prayed at dinner, “Thank you, God, that we have such a nice family.”  I don’t always think of us a nice family.  We are fun… we are real… we are loving and snugglebugs… we are a disaster in many ways… we are a mess… we are constantly working on it… but nice?  That sounds like a distant future version of us when we have all of these problems handled and are better able to deal with our life!  And I worry that we’ll never actually get there, wherever there is.

But hearing one of you pray that and knowing that you experience us as a nice family, despite the fight that happened only 24 hours prior and the rest of the craziness that goes on around here – that floored me.  I realized that God HAS given us a nice family because He has given us one another and Himself too!  We are so very blessed to have a Mommy, a Daddy, a Zach, a Rissa, and a Nathaniel!  We are exactly what each other needs and also what each other has always wanted.

Yes, there will be more fights.  But we’ll keep talking about it and working on it.  And there will always be love here.  We’ll learn and grow, and we’ll do it together.  That’s Mommy and Daddy’s promise to one another and to each of you.

Ear Piercing

I got my nose pierced for my 35th birthday.  We called it my “midlife crisis” and celebrated that I had come of age to legitimately have a midlife crisis!  My poor mom did not find out about this until she saw me a good 7 months later!  (Oops, forgot to blog about it until now!  This is partially because I am crazy busy and also because loading pictures onto this blog has become massively difficult and even more time-consuming than it already was!  Rawr!)  I had been wanting to pierce my nose since my 32nd birthday, but what if it was just a phase?  I opted to get my nose pierced when I turned 35 if I still wanted to do it.  It was NOT a phase, and I now happily sport a super-cute sparkle over my right nostril!  My piercings now total 4 – both ears pierced at age 13, a second hole in my left ear at age 17, and a nose piercing at age 35.  It was crazy to figure out that there were EIGHTEEN years between my last 2 piercings… I had doubled my life-length in between!

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Ever since her tiny days, Rissa has been very interested in that store in the mall that has a giant teddy bear sitting in a chair right near the entrance… next to the ear-piercing station.  One time when she was 2 or 3, we were walking past Claire’s on our way to the mall playground, and a family was about to have the second ear of their newborn daughter’s ears pierced.  Both Zach and Rissa were extremely concerned about what was happening, so I explained that the baby was going to get earrings and was scared because it is like getting a shot in your ear.  Zach announced that he was NEVER getting his ears pierced!  Rissa strongly objected to ear piercing because she was so concerned for that baby!  I showed them my earrings and explained the process, and my tiny daughter actually thanked me for not piercing her ears when she was a baby.  Making choices has always been a theme in our home, and she and Zach were both adamant that they should get to make their own choice about piercings!  Rissa said she didn’t want to do that until she decided she was ready.  And just like that, it was settled – Rissa would get her ears pierced when she was ready!  I was thrilled with this, because I wanted my ears pierced for a good 5 years before my mom finally caved when I was 13, and I had no intention of making my daughter wait so long.

Fast forward through the next few years when Rissa eyed that teddy bear in the chair every time we walked past Claire’s on our way to the playground.  She regularly told me that shots were ouchy and she did not want to get shots in her ears!  And that was fine.

Right around her 5th birthday, Rissa told me that she was thinking about getting her ears pierced.  Matt felt that she was too young… I was committed to allowing her to make the decision.  I reviewed the process with her and she said that she was very interested, but not yet ready “in case it was too ouchy.”  Perfect; we are happy to wait!  When she turned 6, I got my nose pierced and all members of our household were profoundly aware of how painful it is to wipe your face with a towel after you get out of the shower and catch your nose ring and yoink it out of your face… and then have to get it back in!  I think watching my healing process put her consideration on hold.  Around Christmas last year, Rissa said, “Mom, why don’t you ever let me get my ears pierced???”  I was flabbergasted!  We talked about it and I told her that Daddy and I knew she would know when she was ready to do it.  She could tell us it was time, and then we would talk about it.  I reminded her that if she didn’t tell us she was ready, then we were happy to wait until she was.  “Oh,” she said.  And then she didn’t mention it for 6 months.

A few weeks ago, despite all of our efforts to hold off until she was ready, I brought up the topic.  I had purchased some really cute, little-girl-appropriate earrings for her at a sale at Christmas because I assumed we’d be doing this soon.  I hoped to give them to her for her 7th birthday, but that would be pointless if she didn’t already have her ears pierced!  So I asked if she was still thinking about it, and she said she was.  A few days later, she talked to me about it and said that she was ready to get her ears pierced and could we go right now?  I told her that we would talk about it some more and that I was sure that Daddy would want to be there.  She smiled and nodded and said we should definitely wait for him.  And then the topic disappeared again.

Today, we all went to the mall to eat lunch before we ran some errands as a family.  As we wandered toward the food court, Rissa casually asked, “Can I get my ears pierced while we are here?  Because, you know, we are HERE…”  Matt and I agreed to talk about it with her and with one another while we ate lunch.  We chatted extensively – I reminded her about the process and that it would hurt for a little bit and then stop hurting.  We also asked her why she wanted to get her ears pierced and reviewed what counted as a good reason and what counted as a bad reason.  (Wanting to wear jewelry in your ears and being responsible enough to keep track of tiny possessions like earrings without losing them are good reasons; doing it because your friends have done it is a bad reason).  She assured us of what we already knew – that she had been thinking about this for a long time and had finally decided she was ready.

We considered having a waiting period where she demonstrated her ability to keep her belongings in their designated places to prove that she can be trusted with small possessions and not leave them around the house or lose them.  Rissa pulled out her excellent negotiation skills and suggested that since she had to wear the first earrings for 6-8 weeks, she could get her ears pierced today and then spend those weeks proving that she was ready to be responsible with more pairs of earrings.  She also stated that if there was a line at the piercing chair or if they did not have a teddy bear for her to hold, she was NOT doing this today.  “I would say, ‘no way!’ and wait until I was 13 if I didn’t get to hold the teddy bear!”  Well, that sounds ridiculously reasonable… how did she even come up with something so agreeable to us???  Matt and I knew that if she could think this through so carefully for all of this time and then come up with her own plan to show how responsible she was, then she was obviously ready!

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Rissa was a SUPERSTAR of courage!  She hardly flinched and was all smiles.  “It hurts, but it’s not too bad.”  She was so brave!

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Nathaniel has now decided that when he grows up, he is going to get HIS ears pierced so that he can have a lollipop!  Zach continues to remain adamant that he will never pierce his ears.  We assured them that there are plenty of opportunities to get lollipops – after haircuts, sometimes after dance class, at parades… no piercings required!  We also talked about how Pastor Allen has an earring (just one), and that some boys get their ear pierced.

“Cool!  But that’s not my thing,” says Zach.
“Me neither,” says Matt.
“Cool, Dad!  That’s another thing that we are the same about!”  Zach is quite proud to be Matt’s mini-me!
“I’m gonna do that when I get big.  I’m gonna go see Raya… I wike her name… and have her do my ears and give me a wowwipop!” says Nathaniel.

I guess we’ll see how many more piercings are in the Olson Five’s future!

These Two!

Zach is extremely sensitive.  He absorbs everything and generally keeps it in there.  Every so often, and always days or weeks after the actual occurrence, he’ll tell us his thoughts about something that happened.  We have to scrounge around in our memories to get back to that day because so much life has happened in the in-between.  But Zach is still thinking about it, and finally decides what he wants to say.  That’s how he rolls.

He was being SO STINKERLY this past week.  Everything Nathaniel did infuriated him, and their interactions devolved into hitting and kicking on a daily basis.  I was losing my mind!  I found myself separating them and directing them to STOP instead of trying to figure out what was going on beyond my awareness of the situation.  Frankly, I didn’t CARE what was behind all of this – I just wanted the fighting to stop!

On Saturday morning, Rissa came upstairs crying and told us that Zach had done something… I forget what it was.  Matt and I were still in bed because we are totally those parents who let their children turn feral every weekend so that we can SLEEP.  We told her to send Zach up.

Zach came in and I told him to get in bed between us and snuggle.  Bwahaha, I KNEW that would be a punishment.  He snuggled in and said, “Why?  WHY????”

And I said, “WHAT IS YOUR DEAL LATELY???  WHY DO YOU KEEP HITTING AND KICKING AND HAVING FIGHTS WITH YOUR SIBLINGS?  WHAT IS GOING ON????”

(Actually, I did say those words, but in a very gentle tone of voice.  But I wanted to demand an answer in my all-caps tone of voice.)

Zach gave his typical shrug and “I don’t know” and I internally shook my fist and cursed the day that Matt’s way of handling things (which is to not handle them whatsoever) passed on to my son.  So we laid there together, the 3 of us, and we asked very quiet, very calm questions.  “Did something happen?  Did someone bother you?”  Sit down and prepare yourself for this…

Once Zach finally thought it through and realized what was bothering him, and once he finally allowed himself to speak of it (because he clenches his face and you can see the “Should I?  Nah, I’m not saying anything… what should I even say if I did say something?” internal conversation play out on his features JUST LIKE HIS FATHER), he said, “Well, it was in September, 2013…”

Not only did he know what was bothering him, he’d been sitting on it for THAT LONG.  Six months in the life of a six year old is like 5 years of adult time!

So we talked about it… that time at lunch that some first-graders were rude to him.  And Matt calmly said some things… things that he says to Zach somewhat regularly because they approach life in very similar ways.  Matt and I both love that they have that special connection, but we also are deeply aware of what kinds of issues their life approach leads into, because Matt is walking that path himself.  It is in the same way that Rissa and I are similarly passionate… while I love understanding her and sharing that with her, I also know the depths of difficulty it is going to cause for her and I’m still processing a great deal of those depths myself!  Matt and I have committed to walk these roads with our kids… we hope we can learn together.

Frankly, I forget what Matt said.  Something about, “Yeah, I do that too.  Sometimes I think… but then that doesn’t help.  I’m still learning that I need to…”

Having resolved the monstrosity that had been plaguing our son for SIX months, Zach turned into his silly “we’ve been snuggling for too long and I’m totally burned out on this lovey-dovey sharing time, so let’s get ridiculous!” self.  (I’ll let you figure out who he gets that from… sigh.  It is so disorienting, because I could very well be married to my son or a mother to my husband!  They are SO MUCH ALIKE!)

Zach headed downstairs, feeling better and back to himself.  And Matt and I finally got out of bed and began our day.

When we arrived downstairs, Zach was putting the final touches on this:

Zach's card for Daddy, Feb 2014 (cover)   

And I was flooded with delight that my mini-Matt has the big Matt to walk alongside in his journey.  I love connecting with my sensitive and kind son, and I never feel threatened by his unadulterated affection for his daddy.  It’s fine when I say, “I love you, Zach!” and he says, “I love you too!  AND Daddy!”  Because MY SON HAS A DADDY WHOM HE LOVES AND WHO LOVES HIM.  That is a rare and valuable gift.  It drives me crazy when parents compete with one another for their children’s love… dude, you both love your child!  And they love both of you!  Let’s just be satisfied with the wonder of that!  I received 2 years of love letters from this cutie during preschool, so I’m glad to see him branching out.

And yes, my husband and my son are abysmally similar.  But they also share quite a few wonderful qualities.  And while they both make me crazy because I’d really love it if they’d just handle life WHEN IT HAPPENS, they are both still learning to do that.  And they can learn together, which means Zach will continue with the wonderful qualities and perhaps lessen the abysmal qualities just as Matt is growing out of his.  And Zach has someone right there who says, “Yeah, I often hide when I make a mistake too… but it’s safe to tell.  Of course we love you, even when you mess up.”  So Matt is able to confront his own fears by affirming Zach so that he doesn’t have to develop those fears any further.  It is remarkable to watch these 2 heal one another.

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Perler Beads

Our obsession began innocently enough… as innocently as a trip down the wrong aisle at Meijer to check out the cool stuff can begin.  It was after Christmas and there were sales everywhere.  We have only ourselves to blame; we did choose to go down that aisle looking for fun.  And we found it!

I planned to buy just one bucket… they had 4 types available.  But one of the kids voted with me that we should get the dessert designs bucket with the sparkly beads and the other two kids voted that we should get the solid colors because it came with a monkey template.  Without Daddy there to perform the tie-breaker and sucker that I am for monkeys and desserts, I bought both.  We’d try it, we’d spill, I’d vow to never bring 5000+ piece toys into my home again, and it’d be a family activity.  Easy-peasy.  Yeah, that was the plan.

We are now OBSESSED with Perler beads.  I always knew of them as a kid, but had never actually done any projects with them.  My mom was WAY too smart to allow 5000+ piece toys into HER home!

I got it out one evening over our break from school and work, once the kids were in bed.  I wanted to try it out myself before I let the kids get started.  How hard was it to grasp and manipulate those little beads?  (decently hard).  How much attention did it require?  (focused attention).  Did they look cool or stupid when finished?  (totally cool).  I brought over one of our felt angels from the felt Christmas tree that the kids get to decorate and undecorate as much as they’d like.  I tried to copy the pattern and it worked quite well.  So I made another angel, this time with sparkly beads.  Ooo… the precision, the focus, the attention to detail.  I felt like I had tenuous control of the universe… the very tiny Perler universe where even one mishap or bump to the table would send everything spinning into oblivion.  I couldn’t move.  I couldn’t squirm.  I had to sit still and concentrate.  Impossible and invigorating at the same time.  I made the two angels, a snowflake, an ice cream sandwich, and a milkshake, just to try out the various shapes.  This seemed doable.  Well, not really, but it seemed worth a try.

The next day, the kids tried it out.  Zach made a watermelon all by himself.  He even changed the design a little bit because he thought the seeds were too evenly spaced.  And he wanted them black, not white.  So he used the black from the other bucket of beads and made his improvements.  Rissa made an impossibly complicated lollipop.  Not only did she (actually WE, she incorporated my help in deciphering the design) have to space the colors EXACTLY according to the directions or the spiral wouldn’t work, she also had to make a separate stick on a separate template and then we had to fuse the 2 designs together.  Nathaniel wanted to make a crocodile, and he did it himself with only minor direction on placement.  For a kid who adores focused concentration activities, Perler beads were amazing.  For a 3 year old’s parents, Perler beads were a nightmare.  But he managed to crash his crocodile only a few times and fixed it himself.  And I made a little tree frog.  Daddy assisted Rissa.  I promised to fuse the designs with the iron while the kids were asleep and then show them the next morning.  (I knew I would not be able to handle the pressure of doing it while they were watching… what if I jerked my hand, the thing broke a bit, and I had to fix it?  Better to do it without prying eyes watching every mistake).

Another day came and went.  We needed fabric for a quilt I’m making, so we went to a craft store… and saw a set of Perler beads that had a cat, a dog, and a turtle template.  There was also a tiny package with a Christmas tree template and only 300 beads for $1.  Obviously, the kids talked me into both and obviously, I was a willing accomplice in their scheme to buy it.  After dinner, we got out our beads and set to work.  Rissa made a calico patchwork kitty.  Zach made a puppy.  Nathaniel made a monkey.  I made a turtle.  Daddy assisted Nathaniel.

We took a break for New Year’s Eve.  On New Year’s Day, I asked if the kids wanted to finger-paint or do more Perler beads.  I was thinking finger-painting.  They were ALL thinking Perler beads.  So we got to work.  Rissa made a puppy that she named Magenta.  Zach made the Christmas tree.  Nathaniel and I worked together on a baby penguin.  Daddy assisted Zach.  This was becoming our thing.  The kids were getting more confident.  They hated making mistakes and it is REALLY hard to pick up the one bead that went in the wrong place without knocking out a bunch more!  Nathaniel was able to do it on his own!  He preferred “help,” but that just meant that he wanted someone with him and focused on what he was doing.  He didn’t even need help reading the patterns that I started printing from http://www.eksuccessbrands.com/perlerbeads/.

A few days later, we were at it again.  Daddy finally had the chance to make his own!  He designed his own little shark.  Zach made a blue cat.  Rissa made a rainbow turtle.  Nathaniel made a baby polar bear… that he did almost entirely on his own!  I made part of a snowy owl and assisted Nathaniel.

Today, I went back to the craft store for more thread.  And we made the mistake of going down the aisle with Perler beads.  And Nathaniel and I saw a set with 5000 more beads (we were running low on white AND black from all of our winter animals) and a set of templates including a dolphin, a flower, a heart, and a butterfly.  We didn’t need it, but we caved.  The obsession has fully taken over.

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We now have a shameful 18,300 Perler beads (at least 2000 of them are already fused into 21 shapes).  We have 13 different templates.  We have printouts from the website and ideas for many more.  And we have hours of family time to look forward to as we use our focused concentration skills to fuse Perler beads.  Why?  Because it is fun.  And addictive.  And neurotically satisfying.

What will we do with all of our work?  We’ve tied string to quite a few and strung them on the Christmas tree.  We cannot choose a template we have already used, so each of us can make just one cat, just one dog, just one turtle, etc.  So far, we have quite a few sets of twin designs, and the triplets will appear at our next session.  The kids are concerned that I will tuck all of their designs away in the Christmas decorations when we take down the tree next week, but they use their new toys in imaginative play so I think we’ll keep them out.  And we’ll keep cranking them out.  We can’t even stop ourselves!  We’ll have to slow down, because school is back in session, which means 3 of our 5 weeknights are filled with music lessons and dance lessons and Awana Bible club again.

At least our iron is getting used for something!

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