“He Hugged Me”

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Yesterday morning, we were doing our typically Sunday morning getting ready sprint before leaving for the 8:00 a.m. divine service.  I’d spent several minutes in Teo’s room with him, trying to figure out what he wanted to wear.  Finally, I reached my breaking point, as he objected to every suggestion I made.  Rather than scold or yell, I just walked to my bedroom and said, “Okay, Mom has to get ready too, Teo.”  I heard him cry and protest: “But, I need you, Mom!”

His tears persisted for a few minutes.  Then, I heard Dennis come back from taking our dog Claira for a quick walk.  He was ready for church, so I hoped he’d be able to step in to help Teo rally.  I heard the beginning of their conversation in low murmurs, but then it was quiet.  When I emerged from my bedroom a few minutes later, Dennis was carrying Teo toward the bathroom and he was fully dressed.  Good job, Dad!

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As the coffee was brewing, I asked Dennis, “What did you do to get Teo to calm down and cooperate this morning?”

“I did what you always suggest.  I hugged him,” he replied.

“Really?”

“Yeah, I just held him for awhile and then he was fine,” he said with smile.

I loved hearing this so much, and I felt like this was an important tender, teaching moment for all of us. I went over to Teo who was sitting in the living room and crouched down next to him.

“Hey, Lovie.  What did daddy do this morning to help you calm down?”

“He hugged me,” he replied matter-of-factly.

Oh, my heart!  I said, “That’s wonderful.  Sometimes that’s just what we need, isn’t it?  Love, you help Mom and Dad to remember, when you get upset, by asking us for a hug.  You could say, ‘Can I just have a hug?'”  He nodded and smiled at me.

Both of my children are highly emotional, and I know they come by that honestly!  We’re all constantly learning how to manage and deal with our feelings in helpful and effective ways.  I want Mateo to know that he can ask for what he needs specifically, but first we have to identify what those needs are.  Clearly, he’s looking for connection with his parents, even though it comes out like he’s resisting our direction.

We recently attended a truly remarkable parenting seminar at the kids’ new school.  The material was based on the teachings of Paul Tripp.  In the section entitled “Getting to the Heart of Parenting” he calls the family “God’s primary learning community.”   He explains that family is where kids learn what’s fundamental to being human and know what to do and how to be the way we’re designed to be.

In my notes, I summarized the main ideas as: “Family is where we teach children to love and live in the awe of God.  This allows them to receive His wisdom, interpret life through Him, and worship Him (instead of themselves). They will see their parents’ example of love and also recognized that they cannot fulfill God’s law on their own.  This realization of our shared sinfulness drives us to Christ for forgiveness and grace.  We live and practice this process of sin and redemption in the family daily – that’s what it means to be a learning community.”

So often, moments of tenderness and connection come out of conflict.  As a family, we must not shy away from conflict, but always be quick to forgive and reconnect in loving ways.

Whatever These Moments Have to Teach Me

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I still find myself sometimes falling into the trap of thinking every moment needs to be accomplishing a goal or achieving something. In this mindset, I have a litany of “shoulds” running through my mind: I should be intentional with my time. I should either work and be productive or relax and have fun.  I shouldn’t waste time. But, this line of thinking quickly causes me to strive for control.  I start planning excessively and rush from one activity to the next, never being fully present in any of them.

The kids and I got home about a half hour ago. Sienna spent the day at The Cambridge School Summer Academy and Mateo was at baseball camp. I’d promised Sienna we could look at Halloween costumes when we got home.  She has her heart set on being Anakin Skywalker and has been researching costumes for several days.  As we came in the house, I agreed that we could look at costumes first, but there were many things we needed to get done – homework and bathing being of most importance.

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I sat down at my computer, expecting the kids to start asking about the costumes. But, they didn’t. They went to Teo’s room and began collecting stuffed animals.  I didn’t know what they were doing but whenever they start playing something imaginative together, I never interrupt their flow.  So, what to do next?  My mind starting bouncing around to various ideas – should I get some more work done?  Sit and read for a few minutes?  Pick up around the house and start on the evening chores?  I ended up making a decision without making a decision.  I started reviewing and replying to several work emails.

The kids were playing in the living room, just a few feet away. I suddenly heard something fall to the ground.  Teo called out, “I’ll pick it up, Sienna!”  To which she replied, “Thank you, Teo.”  I smiled at their sweet, polite exchange as I turned around to see what they were doing.  They’d created an animal hospital, bandaging up their stuffed animals. (Note the animals’ bandages in the photos!) Each injury or medical condition had an involved back story.

Taking in the moment, I thought: “Stop, take this in. This is your life.”  These are the moments that I would have missed, or worse, would have stopped, when I lived inside my head; when my To Do list demanded all my attention.

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I’ve been thinking a lot about growth lately. As the kids get ready to start a new school in the fall (more about that later!), I’ve been recognizing how much of their learning and growth happens at home.  This is where they learn how to treat other people, how to express their needs and wants, how to forgive, and how to receive grace.  Hearing Mateo’s offer to help, and Sienna’s loving appreciation, I was struck by how everyday moments between family members are so valuable.  These moments don’t have to be planned or structured, they just happen.  But, in those moments, we shape the culture of our family.  We shape the worldview of our children.

Now, this was a sweet moment, but there are just as many challenging ones in a family! When a child is frustrated about not getting what they want.  When a parent sets a limit that the child doesn’t like.  When we simply all have different ideas of what we want to do in that moment.  So much good comes from these moments of grace, growth, and learning.

I’m letting go of trying to figure out exactly what our afternoon and evening should entail. I’ll say a prayer that our family time would be blessed today.  Then, I’ll pay attention to whatever these moments have to teach me.

Tell Me Everything that Happened

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On our long car ride back home from the Grand Canyon, Mateo starting asking Dennis and me about life before the kids were born. He’s been doing this more lately and it tickles me to no end!  He’ll continually ask “Then what?” when we gloss over years with general statements.  He wants details!  This time he said “Tell me everything that happened.”  With hours of driving ahead of us, we indulged him and enjoyed a trip down memory lane.  We told the kids about the apartment downtown and how we ended up moving to a condo in Hillcrest, that we toured while looking for a place for Gaga (aka my mom) to rent.

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We went through my high risk pregnancy with Sienna and her joyful birth. We shared about Gaga moving back up north and how we found Grace Lutheran Church and Preschool so Sienna could attend school and be baptized.  Then, we told them about the miscarriage we had in the fall, when Sienna was just under two years old.  Teo had a lot of questions!  I assured him that we had indeed told him about this before, but he must not have been old enough to understand or remember.  We recounted how, while wiping tears and driving home from the medical office where they discovered the missing heartbeat, I prayed and then told Dennis: “We’re going to look back in a few years and we’ll have the children we were meant to have.”

After answering several questions, there was a long pause in the conversation. Then, Mateo asked “Would you have had me, if that baby had lived?”  Time froze for a second as I pondered the poignancy of his question.  “Well, no. We wouldn’t have.”

As I’ve told people this story, a few have prompted, “Of course you would have!” before I told them my response to Teo’s question. I understand the sentiment there, not wanting Mateo to feel that his existence was ever in doubt.  But I’m pragmatic and tend to be very transparent.  Just based on biology, my response was accurate. If that pregnancy had continued successfully, the baby would have been born in June, 2010.  Teo was conceived in April, 2010.  We likely would have stopped after two children, and, even if we hadn’t, a baby conceived at any other time would have been a different child.

I turned around to face Teo in the backseat of the car. “Lovie, remember what I just said.  We knew that God was blessing us with the children we were meant to have.  You had to be born.  You completed our family.”  He smiled and rubbed my hand.  I turned around and swallowed the lump in my throat.  I couldn’t believe how insightful and philosophical Mateo was to consider his place in the history of our family life.

It’s so fun to have kids at an age where they’re curious about our life before they were born.  I remember my parents telling us stories about their years in Sacramento where my dad was in law school.   The passage of time feels so real when you reflect back on the years this way.

A Practice of Presence While Exploring Arizona

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Our family just returned from a delightful road trip vacation through Arizona!  By the time we left last Friday, I was beyond ready to vacate regular life, relax, and enjoy time with Dennis and our little ones.  Leading up to our departure, I’d been struggling to let go of my critical thoughts telling me how I wasn’t doing everything right.  Oh, that old fixed mindset rearing her ugly head!  So, I prayed… and prayed, asking God to help me embrace being present, accept each moment, and allow all of us grace to grow and learn.  God is always faithful!  I found myself completely present, focused on all the fun and new experiences rather than being distracted by my thoughts and plans.

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As I’ve been on this journey of growth the past several years, I’ve been struck time and again by how much I LOVE going to new places and letting the days unfold without planning ahead.  It’s just the best!  There’s something about being away from home (with all the responsibilities it contains) and in a new place (where I don’t know what to expect) that creates the perfect environment for me to just BE.  I absorb my surroundings.  I really see and hear my kids and husband.  I’m present in a way that can tend to allude me in the familiar places of home and work.

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We first headed to Tombstone, Arizona to experience the Old West!   Dennis is very interested in Wyatt Earp and has read a few biographies about his life and experiences in Tombstone.  Most of what I know is from the Kurt Russell and Val Kilmer movie!  We checked in at Tombstone Monument Ranch on Friday evening, just in time for a steak and potatoes dinner, followed by cowboy music in the saloon.  The ranch is a replica of an Old West town, with each room built into the town.  We were in the Wyatt Earp Room!  Across the “street” was the Marshall’s office.  It was so cool!  The musicians played covers of lots of old country and western songs.  My heart soared as I watched Mateo’s face light up when they sang “La Bamba” – one of his favorites!

Our first breakfast was a classic “chuck wagon” meal down by the campfire.  Arizona Bill was our host, and he taught us a lot about the ranch.  He would feature in the rest of our trip too!  After breakfast, the kids begged to go swimming.  The pool was small and unfortunately had attracted a lot of hornets.  Sienna and Teo were afraid, so I got in the pool and started swimming laps to show them it was okay.   But, they were obviously wiser than their mother because, as I reached for the wall right in front of Dennis and the kids, I got stung in the index finger!  Oh man, it hurt!  I came out of the water yelling and then plucked the stinger out of my finger.  It stung me right in the bend of the knuckle.  It continued to swell for the next two days, until it was so swollen I couldn’t bend my finger.  But, other than being annoying, it really didn’t impact the trip, except for not being able to bowl at our hotel near the Grand Canyon!

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We visited Tombstone’s historic downtown, saw a reenactment of the gunfight at the OK Corral, toured the Courthouse, and generally soaked up all things Wyatt Earp, Doc Holliday, and the Old West.  Back at the ranch Dennis got to shoot several different types of guns.  Arizona Bill was the instructor for Dennis and the three other guests that participated in the shooting.  He was such a throwback to the era of the Old West!  His commentary was insightful as he discussed border issues (it’s very close to Tombstone).  He also told endearing stories of his wife outshooting him after he had hundreds of hours of shooting training in the army.  Arizona Bill even gave marriage advice, telling us to always do things together, that’s the key to keeping your relationship strong.  We loved him!

We all tried archery, which was really fun!  Later we had a family horseback riding lesson.  Both kids were scared and Sienna opted out, but she loved the horses and kept asking to go visit them in their stable, so hopefully she’ll try another time.  I got to follow the lesson with a trial ride on my horse Pablo.  It was a great way to see the dessert landscape and have some alone time.  Pablo was a lazy walker so we dragged a bit behind the wrangler and other couple on the trial ride, but that was okay with me.

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After three days of enjoying ranch life, getting to know the other guests, and having all our meals provided for us, it was time to start the second leg of our trip.  We headed northwest toward the Grand Canyon!  The drive was pretty easy and we kept entertained with music – country, Broadway musicals, and some 90s pop.  I loved overhearing the imaginative stories that Sienna and Mateo made up.  Sienna has the liveliest imagination and she gets Teo involved in long stories.  This trip the themes were the west and horses (obviously) and Star Wars, because they both love it despite being afraid to actually watch the movies!  We don’t take any electronic devices on our road trips (except cell phones for texting, GPS, and music), which definitely helps them engage with one another and their imaginations.

Tuesday morning we headed into Grand Canyon National Park to view the canyon from the South Rim.  It was more tremendous than I was expecting!  You hear people joke that it’s “a big hole in the ground” which is true.  But, it’s so immense and beautiful.  We spent several hours walking the rim and talking dozens of pictures.  Every angle seemed new and photo worthy!  The kids were interested, but got much more engaged with the visit once we got Teo a souvenir: a ring-tailed cat stuffed animal that he named Ringo.  We expected the kids to start complaining about the hike back, but they got really involved in caring for Ringo and explaining the canyon to him, so they walked back happily.  It was the best timed souvenir ever!

272The rest of our vacation included a day trip to Flagstaff – such a cute mountain town.  We explored downtown, found a great little bookstore, had brunch and then headed back to our hotel to swim and read.  I got to read a bunch on this trip – my favorite!  Our hotel also featured a small bowling alley and arcade!  We concluded our day in the arcade for the last two nights and all enjoyed playing basketball, pinball, Mrs. Packman, and racecar driving.  Teo’s poor driving skills had me hysterically laughing!

So, we’re home now and I’m reflecting on this delightful vacation.  Going in, I thought that the Tombstone part of the trip was mostly for Dennis.  But, it was so enjoyable!  I loved the inclusiveness of the ranch, getting to meet new people, having all our meals prepared for us.  It felt like summer camp!  We definitely want to go back.  But, we’ll see… there are so many places to explore!

Mateo’s Moment of Connection and Compassion

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After Palm Sunday service, we decided to go out for brunch downtown. Sienna’s sweet friend Gracie had spent the night and gone to church with us, so the five of us drove down Park Boulevard on a beautiful early spring morning on a hunt for food.

Our brunch was yummy and they actually made my hash browns extra crispy, but as typically happens after eating out at a restaurant, I started to have that bit of buyer’s remorse. As I was reminding myself that we were paying for the experience, not just the food, the girls and I exited the restaurant to meet Dennis and Teo, who’d left a few minutes before us.  I found them talking to a homeless man that looked in pretty bad shape.  As I approached them, Dennis asked: “Kels, do you have a dollar or two?”

I grabbed my wallet and pulled out the only two singles I had, handed them to the man, and said “God bless you.” He smiled without making eye contact and we all walked away.

Teo and I were holding hands and his questions started right away. “How much did you give him?  Could we give him more? He needs more than that, Mommy.”

I tried to explain, the best I could and asked him: “Do you want to do more to help people who don’t have homes or enough to eat?” He replied, “I want to help that man.” The simplicity of his connection to seeing this particular man’s pain was poignant.  I didn’t need to turn this into a grandiose teaching moment, Mateo just wanted to do something to ease this man’s suffering.

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We were about a block from the restaurant and crossing the street when Teo said, “I wish I could give him my allowance.” Once safely on the other curb, I stopped Dennis and the girls, then turned to Teo. “You want to give him your allowance?  We can, if you’re sure.  We can go back.”

“Yes, let’s go back,” he replied as he pulled me back toward the intersection.

His questions continued as we walked quickly down the street and noticed that the man was slowly walking away, so we had to catch up to him. “How much will we give him?”

“Well, your allowance is $7.00 and we already gave him $2.00.”

He employed his counting up method of addition: “Two. Three, four, five, six, seven. Okay, then that makes seven dollars. Mommy, what will he do with this money?… Maybe he’ll get a dog!”

“Seven dollars isn’t enough for a dog, but he could get a good meal today, that would be good,” I explained.

“Okay. Then, maybe other people will give him money for food tomorrow and for a jacket, maybe a bigger backpack to carry his stuff…”

We caught up to the man, and I handed him the five dollar bill at Mateo’s request. He thanked us in a vacant kind of way and I studied Mateo’s face as he watched the man.  His care and compassion were palpable.

We turned the corner to head to our car, just outside of Petco Park, where the Padres play. Teo said, “Oh, he could go to a baseball game!”  I again explained that a meal was probably the best way he could spend the money Teo gave him.

Walking hand in hand with my precious son, I thanked God for this moment. Sure, we spent more on breakfast than we needed to and there was the irony that parking literally cost twice what we gave this man.  But, that moment of connection and compassion only happened because we were there.  Dennis and I have been talking about finding a charity and volunteer opportunity for our family.  As I’ve been learning, more often than not, the kids lead and teach through their innocence and love.  This moment taught Mateo more about compassion and the spirit of giving than anything we could instill.

Parenting by Making Commitments and Building Trust

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Several weeks ago, Dennis, my mom, our friend Christina, and I went for a group “coffee date” during the kids’ Sunday school class. We had a lovely time chatting over our coffee when I noticed the time and said, “Oh, we better get back.  The kids will be fine in the church courtyard but it’s getting late.”  We scurried off and were just a block from the church when my cell phone rang.  It was my friend Michelle, who teaches one of the Sunday school classes.  “Someone is wondering where you are,” she said.  A tearful Sienna got on the phone and I explained that we were almost back.

As I came into the classroom, Sienna was still sobbing. I hugged her close.  “Honey, we were on our way back.  We knew you were safe here with our church family. It’s okay, love.” I kept given her reassuring words and holding her close for several minutes.

The following Saturday afternoon, Sienna started asking me questions about Sunday school. “You’ll be there to pick me up, right?”  Initially, I was a little impatient with her. Recently, Sienna has been needing a lot of reassuring and often her questions strike me as absurd.  And, if I’m honest, they make me worry about her worrying, which doesn’t feel good.  I distractedly replied: “Yes, of course we’ll be there, honey.”

Sienna’s pleas for reassurance continued the next morning and hit their peak during the sermon. She was in tears as she expressed deep fear that we wouldn’t be there to pick her up after Sunday school.  I took her out of the church so we could talk.  This time, I really listened.  What I heard and related to was genuine fear.  I could see she now had an association between coming out of Sunday school and experiencing the fear of not seeing us down in the courtyard, therefore the thought of sitting in class anticipating that moment was causing her anxiety.

As I started to promise her we would be there, a thought suddenly occurred to me: “Make and keep commitments to build trust.” This reminder has been popping up on my Outlook Task list for months, as a reminder to build trust with my coworkers by making and keeping commitments. The phrase comes from Speed of Trust, a book and program we’ve embraced at our office, which argues that making and keeping commitments to people is one of the best ways to build their trust in you. It was such a perfectly timed reminder.

“Sienna, why don’t we pick out a specific place in the courtyard for us to be when you get out of class?” I offered. “That way you’ll know just where to look for us.”

“Okay. Yes, that would be good,” she replied with a big exhale of relief.

After mass, we crossed through the courtyard on Sienna’s way up to class. “Which picnic table should we be sitting at?” I asked.

“That one,” she said, pointing. “That way I can see you right from the top of the stairs!”

As Dennis and I hurried over to the farmer’s market for an iced coffee, I explained to him that we had to get back right away. I wanted to be sure to be there in plenty of time. This was now a commitment.  I’d promised to be there and I knew she needed us to help her overcome this fear.

We got back at least 20 minutes before class was scheduled to end, so we sat on a comfy couch in the courtyard while drinking our coffee and chatting with our church family members as they came and left. As the time for class to end neared, I told Dennis I was heading over to sit at the picnic table.  Even though she could see us from the couch, that wasn’t the point. I’d promised to be there, at that picnic table.  Meeting the spirit of the commitment wasn’t the same as meeting it fully.

The look on Sienna’s face when she came to the top of the stairs and looked straight down at where I was sitting was pure relief, joy, and love. She came running down the stairs. “Mommy, you’re right where you said you’d be!” she exclaimed. I gave her a big hug and said a prayer of gratitude for being there, when she needed me.

That little moment built so much trust between Sienna and me. Since that week, she’s continued to express concern about whether we’ll be in the courtyard when class gets out.  I keep reassuring her and when I say, “I’ll be sitting at the picnic table,” she smiles and nods.  Clearly the memory of seeing me sitting there the first time I promised has given her a comforting association with getting out of class.

This experience meant so much to me. It reminded me of the simple truth that just showing up and being present, as a parent, is more than half the battle.  There’s not much that’s more rewarding than connecting with my daughter by fulfilling a promise to do what I love: be there for her.

The Best Resolution of All.

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The lesson I learned this week?  Never write on a calendar with permanent marker.

Actually, this realization started to set in at the end of last month, as my hairdresser and dog groomer each cancelled appointments due to illness.  Then, just this week, I didn’t attend a meeting on Monday evening, a work trip got cancelled on Tuesday evening due to weather, and a coffee date with a friend got moved from Thursday to Friday.  That last one was in pencil.  I finally wised up.

Most of those events were entered into our family calendar in permanent marker several weeks before.  I giggled when I recognized this gentle reminder that, though we want to believe we know what the future holds, every day is an unfolding mystery.  It’s best to be prepared and then curiously watch as the day unfolds and we have opportunities to learn and grow.

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This week was full of transitions for me and our little family.  After being home for two weeks wherein we celebrated Christmas, New Years, Sienna’s birthday, Mateo’s birthday, and a surprise trip to Disneyland (Whew!), it was time to get back into the school and work routine.

I love these two weeks that cap off the year and usher us into the New Year knitted as a family unit.  For the past few years, we’ve done a family goal setting session on New Year’s Eve.  For 2018, our family theme is “Home” and we set a goal to make our home more comfortable and inviting.  I just read this book: The Little Book of Hygee: Danish Secrets to Happy Living and it brought together so many of the ideas I’ve had swirling in my mind about making a cozy home!  I recently got a reading chair for the corner of our bedroom and it’s transformed the feel and function of that room.  I love having a dedicated cozy spot to read with my cup of tea!

This year the kids were really into the goal setting!  Sienna set a goal to read 40 books  and Mateo set a few goals, one of which is to “invent something to make things invisible”.   At first I started to reason with him that this wasn’t a very attainable goal, but then I figured: Shoot for the stars, kid!

As I posted the goals on the bulletin board in the kitchen, I realized that there was something missing.  We set these goals and intentions without properly acknowledging that we live and move and have our being in Christ.  God is in control, we’re not. For goodness sakes, I can’t even write something on the calendar and know for sure it will happen that day!  So, I added a verse to our goal list: … yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring.  What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes… you ought to say: “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.” (James 4:15)

I love goal setting and annual planning.  It’s motivating to imagine the habits and behaviors that will make life valuable and fulfilling.  It’s also fun to look forward to summer vacations, holidays, and annual events.  But, it’s easy to let all that planning create a sense of self-reliance or self-determination that’s simply false.  We control so very little and God provides all.  Keeping that perspective firming in mind is the best resolution of all.