i told you so

We interrupt this regular blogcast to bring you three words.

Colin. Firth. Rocks.

I have been saying it for years, and finally the world recognizes my wisdom.

I simply cannot write the blog post I had intended today because I have to gloat.

As I told the nurse who took my blood pressure this morning (perfect, by the way), I have not raved about a movie since Return of the King in 2003. Either I have high standards or just a thing about movies with the word ‘king’ in the title. I am talking, of course, about The King’s Speech, the official best picture of 2010.

Go see it. And for those of you who may hesitate to see it because of its rating–the only reason for the ‘R’ rating is the dropping of a few F bombs. OK, quite a few. But, unlike standard Hollywood fare, they are not gratuitous but quite necessary to the plot (plus really, really funny).

So what does this have to do with the professed topic of my blog? A lot, actually. The message of the movie underscores so much of what I write about and am passionate about. Like,

  • Letting down our masks and defenses is usually the first step to healing.
  • Needing something worth fighting for is deep in the human soul.
  • Don’t overlook the less glamorous, less talented, or less confident. God actually seems to prefer working with them when he wants to do something great.

Most importantly,

  • What people call you, even or especially not-so-great parents, does not define who you are.
  • What you do in the face of difficulty, when others need you, does.

sugar cookie wars

I am not an extravert. This is not exactly shocking news to people who know me. I scored so far into the introversion range on the personality test for ministry prep in grad school that the adviser told me I might want to consider another field. I didn’t.

But moving into our neighborhood fourteen years ago (OK,it’s not really a neighborhood. It’s a dead end street with twenty houses strung along it), I knew I wanted to get to know my neighbors somehow. Going out to meet them or inviting them over individually was about as likely to happen as going up and down the street in a bikini in January. (And trust me, going anywhere in a bikini at any time is not going to happen, ever. ) So, we began what became the annual tradition of the Richardson house neighborhood cookie exchange each December.

Now, at our house, this has always been a civilized event. But cookie exchanges can turn ugly. Because there is no fury like a woman whose Russian Teacakes are scorned. Watch this particularly, I am not kidding you, at a church cookie exchange. We all smile politely about it. We all pretend we don’t care if people take more of Edna’s chocolate krinkles than our pecan cherry delights. (And who wouldn’t prefer the former, really?) But we do care, deeply. And we are watching that table like the lions watched Daniel to see whose cookies go and whose stay. Sure, we know Jesus is the reason for the season. But we also know Hershey’s Kisses and a few well-sprinkled nonpareils might be the reason we go home feeling validated. I suspect that cookie exchanges in real neighborhoods, where people live closer to one another than they do on or street and interact more, are very similar. Oneupmanship lives.

So why do we allow the perfectly round circumference of a sugar cookie or the choice of chunky, creamy, or super chunky in our peanut butter blossoms to determine whether or not we believe the endeavor was worthwhile? And, by extension, whether or not we are?

Because it’s easy. We may never be able to tell if we are the best listener in the neighborhood, or the best at watching out for the other kids. We may never see ourselves rated on being an encourager at church, or understanding the messages, or helping behind the scenes. These are not quantifiable. But we know without a shadow of a doubt whose cookie tray goes home the emptiest. And so there we can hang our worth. Which is a pretty fickle thing to bind our personal validity to. Cookies can let you down with the slightest change in temperature or butter versus margarine.

What kind of measurement are you using to decide whether you deserve whatever title it is you want today?

the eye of the beholder

And the scrapbooking saga continues . . .

The photos of the year we surprised my husband’s family and drove to Colorado Springs for Christmas still bother me. They are beautiful photos. Seeing all the families’ little girls lined up in the dresses grandma made for them is an adorable photo op. Remembering the 60 and 70 degree weather is a definite plus as well. But it put us in Colorado the Christmas everyone was reporting the news of the little Colorado girl found murdered in her basement, the six-year-old beauty pageant queen. It was very, very difficult to be right there at the epicenter of the news, seeing my own three girls and wondering how any mother could handle parting from any child, but most especially if you knew your child had suffered such pain. It was fourteen years ago, but I still remember when I look at the pictures.

Most disturbing to a lot of mothers, though were the newspaper and magazine pictures of little girls dressed up like a midget Angelina J1olies and parading in front of judges. The whole concept of beauty pageants for six-year-olds got a lot of press, and rightfully so. It disturbed me as well to imagine the messages that would send to little girls just like mine.

I never imagined something like the morning ritual of makeup would begin to present philosophical problems when I had kids.

“Mommy, why are you putting that stuff on your face?”

“To make myself look more beau . . . um . . . ah . . . becaaaaause . . . grown up ladies just like to change around their looks sometimes. For fun.” I just could not say the ‘b’ word. I told them on a daily basis that they were beautiful just the way God made them. And I believed it with everything in me. So how could I say I did not believe it about myself? Time to do some recalculating about Cover Girl on a more metaphysical plane.

This is not to say I gave up makeup. I do know my limitations. But I did start to watch what I said around my girls about looks, weight, and other things of that far-too-sensitive-to-women nature.

What happens to our girls when we send them messages that, on one hand, sex sells at the earliest age possible, but on the other, they’re special just the way they are? “Sure, you’re great kid. But nothing a little mascara and a push up bra won’t make better.” That’s why I found the concept of beauty pageants for little girls so abhorrent. Somewhere in that Christmas, I understood in a new way that I wanted to teach my girls to better themselves, not market themselves. Now they’re young women, and the pressure to do so is far, far greater. I hope they still know they’re beautiful, just the way God made them.

More lessons from scrapbooking Christmas pictures, fourteen years ago.

seasonal slacker

Pictures of the house decorated for the holidays remind me of my best laid plans. Years ago, I decided that every Christmas I would make one nice new decoration. One year it was a living room wreath. Another it was window swags. And then there was the year I saw garlands hanging around the doorways in the swanky stores in Geneva (Illinois, not Switzerland) and wanted some of those gorgeous things for myself. So I made two, full of ribbons and glass balls and silk poinsettias. they were, and are, beautiful, though they are showing their age.

Then something happened. Life. Three active kids suddenly meant that the last time I handmade anything was sometime in the early Clinton administration. Plus, doorway swags and endless strings of lights and wreaths made my Christmas boxes take up more storage area than a space shuttle parked in our basement. And I was starting to begrudge the time it took to put it all out rather than enjoy the season. Something was wrong in Whoville.

The part of me that wanted my house to be like the houses in the magazines collided with the part that knew sanity was the better part of happiness. So amid the pictures in later years, you’ll see less décor (and fewer boxes). A focus on what is most important to me (my nativity set and angel collections). Not much handmade in quite a while. Unless you count 4H projects. But those were made by hands other than my own and are therefore more special.

For two years, I’ve let slide the annual cookie party. Am I turning into a slacker? I prefer to believe I’m just focusing on what really brings us joy rather than what seems necessary for some external reason we can’t even label. For 2011, I leave you with this:

Besides the noble art of getting things done, there is the noble art of leaving things undone. The wisdom of life consists in the elimination of non-essentials. ~Lin Yutang

think outside the playpen

The girls had a favorite game during Christmas that I see in lots of our photos. I see daughter #1 teaching it to daughter #2 in a couple shots. I’m sure daughter #2 taught it to daughter #3 as well, but we seem to have no photographic record of this. As #3 will tell you (with great dramatic effect), she got shorted in the picture taking department.

The game was called, “Let’s tear all the bead garlands off the tree and watch Mommy put them back up again.” In those first few years, Mommy must have replaced the bottom foot and a half of the tree’s decorations approximately two hundred times a season.

There had been a time when we failed to take our tree down until, maybe, sometime around Valentine’s Day. Now began the era of taking it down shortly after the new year, solely because it was already half way down anyway and looked horrible, so what was the point in fixing it up one more time?

Finally, I hit upon a solution. Put them in the playpen for the duration of the Christmas season. The tree and it decorations, not the kids. Sure, it looked a little odd. Kind of like a rogue Christmas tree that Santa had to corral before it did any more damage. But it worked.

I could have spent years fixing the tree several times a day. I could have put the kids in the playpen since its obvious design was for kids, not trees. (That might have been considered child abuse, though, for two months.) I could have left the bottom half of the tree naked. Or, I could have looked for a solution to the problem outside the way we normally look at things.

One of my friends recently posted a link about situation that all can relate to. How do we make people do what is better for them when they want to do what is easy? In this case, if taking the stairs is clearly much better for health than an escalator, how do we change peoples’ natural behavior of preferring escalators? Public education? Admonishments that exercise is good for you? Tearing down the escalators of the world? The first two haven’t worked, and the last, well, it may come yet in some presidential job stimulus package, but perhaps not the best solution.

The problem solvers came up with a solution—make people look at it another way. You can see the results in this link. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IeAJJDRn_H0

We don’t normally envision trees in playpens. We don’t think of stairs as musical instruments. We often don’t even bother to solve those ‘little problems’ like messy trees because the solutions seem so overwhelming and fixing the tree one more time doesn’t take too long. Or changing peoples’ patterns seems impossible. Not to mention our own highly-persistent patterns. But impossible is only impossible if we keep looking at playpens as if they are only for children. Sometimes, solutions are right there in front of us, just in a way we never looked at it before.

styrofoam cups and dog biscuits

Ten things I have learned from Christmas scrapbooking:

  • My last good hair day was Christmas 1996. This is the same year my last child was born. Coincidence? I think not.
  • I must, finally, surrender the illusion that I will one day challenge Martha Stewart to the cake decorating title of America. Oh,those Happy Birthday Jesus cakes are so, so bad. But they still had the same meaning.
  • Basic character does not change. Child #2 is downing pop rocks in 1998 as ravenously as she does now. You just can’t change a child’s craving for adventure, even culinary.
  • The best gifts are not the most expensive. You can wrap up a bag full of styrofoam cups and keep your kids entertained for weeks.
  • Count the cost before beginning anything you may later hesitate to call a tradition. If I had any idea those modest gingerbread houses sixteen years ago would become the behemoth counter-hogging creations they are today . . . I still would have done it. But at least I would have known.
  • Dressing up little girls as angels for Christmas programs has got to be the world’s most ingenious subterfuge ever. The CIA could take lessons in how to make someone appear what she certainly is not. But then, real bibilcal angels were enough to bring grown men to their knees in terror, you may recall.
  • Never pass up a chance to take a photo of your child that could be outstanding blackmail material later in life. Take the edge God gives you and run with it; you’re going to need it.
  • Never put ornaments your kids make in kindergarten from dog biscuits on the bottom of the tree if you actually own a dog. Enough said.
  • It really is a major life accomplishment to have kept holiday decorations up through three preschooolers and a cat.
  • As long as there is a nice tree, everything else is negotiable.
  • Treasure your moments, because you have no idea who may not be in the picture next year.