Saturday, June 8, 2013

Learning from Experience

I received the email last Sunday.  The subject line?  "Strawberries are Here!"  Meaning, or course, our local farm and uPick has strawberries ripe for the picking.  What followed was a week of a newsfeed clogged with pictures of adorable kiddos holding a quart of strawberries.  With the innumerable pictures, I was beginning to fear that by the time I was able to get there Thursday with my mom to pick, the plants would be picked over and bare.

Back story: I grew up on a farm where we rarely bought produce.  My parents put out a huge garden, and mom "put it up" every year (meaning she stocked the freezer and canned) so that we only ever purchased a few produce items throughout the year, and if we didn't grow it in our garden, we went to a local uPick to stock up.  Our summer meals reflected whatever was currently ripe in the garden, and a typical summer meal consisted of sweet corn (4-6 ears per person), tomatoes, cole slaw, and hard boiled eggs.  (Obviously, that doesn't quite work for me anymore since we live on a quarter-acre lot smack in the middle of suburbia, but my extended family continues with that self-sufficient lifestyle.)

So when we go to pick strawberries, we don't go for a quart.

In fact, we were probably fortunate that my mom had a busy weekend ahead of her and didn't have time to "do" her strawberries, so she only picked 3 quarts for herself, but she helped pick my 16 pounds so I could make my jam and freeze sliced berries for use throughout the year (and I still want to go back for more!).  Needless to say, my fears about the plants being picked over and bare were assuaged.  And while we were there picking, I learned why.

The uPick was more about a photo opp for a lot of people than it was about an actual desire to teach their children about a process.

I was astonished by the number of families who showed up with their kiddos in cute outfits, picked a handful of strawberries, snapped a pic, and left.  (If this tells you anything, the price of the strawberries was $1.95 per pound.  The lady in front of me had a bill of $1.70, but boy did her kids look cute, and I'm sure her pic was perfect to post to Facebook.)

So here's the question.  Are we more concerned about giving our kids experiences than with teaching them about processes?

I'm thirty-one-years-old.  I would venture to say that our generation was one of the forerunners of experiential childhoods.  Many of us didn't lack for experiences: youth group lock-ins, short-term missions trips, studying abroad.  While there's nothing wrong with simply allowing yourself or child to have an experience every now and then, many of us would probably confess that the experiences that meant the most were the ones where we somehow participated in the process around the experience (for me, it was serving on the leadership team for the camp I worked at in the summers; for others it might have been leading a short-term missions trip, or serving as a class officer and planning prom). 

Regardless, the experiences we value most and learn the most from in life are those that we directly have our hands involved in.

So by plopping our kids in a strawberry patch, a pumpkin patch, in a hot air balloon, beside a celebrity or pro athlete, or thrusting them onto sports teams for a photo opp and for our own treasured memories and sense of accomplishment as a parent may be a waste of energy, time, and money on our parts if in the end our children haven't gained a sense of understanding or appreciation for the experience.  It's easier to whip out our smart phones and quickly post a pic to Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram to inform others about the experiences we're creating for our kids (and to be honest, to pat ourselves on our backs for being such great parents).  In our consumer-based society, many of us are raising obese children: children who are obese with stuff, experiences, and their own self-centeredness because we aren't teaching children how to appreciate and value people, things, or special moments.  We're more concerned with exposing them to innumerable experiences in hopes they'll be well-rounded individuals, when in reality, deep relationships and an understanding and appreciation for life and all its nuances create centered--not self-centered--and peaceful individuals. 

So, instead of picking a quart of strawberries with your child for a picture opp, take the strawberries home and teach her how to make jam or strawberry shortcake.  Allow her to help you wash and hull the berries--even though it's messy, especially because it's messy!  Create a memory for your child that is cherished because of the quality time spent with and learning from you.  A strawberry shortcake tastes so much sweeter when one has picked, washed, and sliced the berries herself. 

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

The Tough Get Going

Photo Credit johnharveytolson flickr

I rarely complain about having a child with Down syndrome and special needs.  It's our normal day-to-day.  It's been a journey getting to this point because I definitely felt worthy of indignation and self-pity in the early days and months of Bear's life.  But if I've learned anything from being part of a special needs community, there are families who have far greater challenges than we've faced.  Kids who face severe health concerns, parents who make the journey alone because a spouse couldn't shoulder the weight of raising a child with special needs, and those who lack extended family and friends to support them.  We are truly blessed to have a healthy and bright little boy, a loving marriage based on a solid best friendship, and family, church family, and friends who are like family who love and support us.  So I've come a long way and measure my life as a blessed one, not a burdened one.


Yep, there's the big "however."  Here recently, Bear has been a CHALLENGE.  Though he's four-and-a-half-years-old, developmentally, he's a bit more like a two-and-a-half-year-old.  Which is TOUGH.  His big boy body doesn't seem to sense danger and has no healthy fear for our warnings and reprimands.  Where our daughters will respond to our chiding, Bear conveniently ignores it and continues his negative behaviors, which are sometimes dangerous.   

  • Girls will play on the deck and sandbox in our backyard for HOURS.  I can do dishes and some household tasks while keeping an eye on them through our windows and screen door.  Bear will take off down the stairs and around to the front of the house and busy road.
  • Girls will "work" beside me in the flower bed and dig through my gardening tools in the garage.  Bear will hop on his hot wheels trike and fly down the driveway like a bat out of hell.
  • Girls will eventually keep their hands off things they're not supposed to touch.  Bear will grab a knife on the counter and wave it around while beaming a proud face that says, "Look what I've got!"
  • At a park and playground, girls will play on the equipment and stay within the appropriate boundaries of the park.  Bear will jet off on a running path (and the little booger is now able to run!), leaving me scrambling for the girls while trying to chase him down.

And some people try to reassure us he's just being a boy, but to those people, I'd like to offer them an opportunity to spend 24:7 w/ Bear before they assure us he's just being a boy.  Dan and I have literally been pulling our hair out, as were his teachers at school the past few months.  We worked together to start a new discipline program (1-2-3 Magic), but it only seems to work its "magic" part of the time.  While we've seen some improvement in his behavior, there are days we fear that he'll never outgrow this.  Will we ever be able to vacation for fear that Bear will just jump off a steep mountainous cliff, or run headlong for a raging ocean, or worse yet, in his meanderings be harmed by a stranger?

One of the beautiful things about raising a child with developmental delays is that every stage lasts longer, so though I had a baby stage that lasted for two years, this wicked little toddler stage just might kill me.  These are the days when I hear those lies whispering how nice it would be to have a "normal" family and a "normal" toddler who eventually listens and responds to discipline and that it's never going to get better and woe is me.  So these are the days, family and friends, that we need you to pull us up and assure us that it does get better.  We KNOW in our souls how special our little man is and what sheer love and joy he has brought to our lives; we don't need to be reassured of that.  But you know what they say: when the going gets tough...

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Month in Books: May 2013

Hardcover book gutter and pages
Hardcover book gutter and pages by Horia Varlan, Flickr

If you're like me, you enjoy reading but often find yourself in need of good material to read.  I hate making a trip to the library--or worst yet, purchasing a book--only to find I've wasted my time or money on a novel or book I don't enjoy.  That's why I LOVE my friend Catherine's blog, A Spirited Mind.  Not only does Catherine have a spirited mind, she has a brilliant mind, so I frequent her blog for recommendations.  Not kidding, I keep her site open and open the library's site in another tab and start placing holds on books I want to read.  AND because I only recently learned of her blog, I have YEARS of reading recommendations to catch up on.

I love her Year in Books reviews with her top five-ten recommendations from the year, so I've decided to do a monthly post to recap what I've read that month.  Hopefully you'll find this list useful in helping you find something good to read, and if my list doesn't help you, surely you can find something at A Spirited Mind.   

May 2013 Reading List


Carry on, Warrior: Thoughts on Life Unarmed I actually came across this book because I recently began following the Glennon Melton's blog Momastery.  I enjoy Melton's brutal honesty and flew through the first half of the book, but by the end I felt like telling her to get over herself.  Because each chapter is an individual writing (some which appeared first as blog posts), the book can be read in small doses, and I think I would enjoy it more that way.  I appreciate that, too, since some of them were especially meaningful and worth rereading.  Overall rating: 4 out of 5 stars.

The Prodigal God I'm not sure why it took me so long to read this one since it's been recommended by numerous people, but it's one that really is a game changer.  Timothy Keller's mind works in unique ways, and his retelling of the parable of the prodigal son will change the way you view yourself and the Heavenly Father.  This quick read is worth purchasing and reading at least once a year.  Overall rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Crazy Love  This is another book that's been recommended by several people, and I had actually tried reading it two years ago but couldn't "get into it." Now that I've read it, I think it's pretty telling of the condition of my heart two years ago.  Francis Chan is not afraid to say it like it is and call out the comfortable, lukewarm Christian and challenge him/her to a radical life marked by risk and devotion to the Lord.  Definitely worth your time and thought.  Overall rating: 4 out of 5 stars.

The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You're Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are  I really don't enjoy the self-help genre, and despite Brene Brown's claim that "self-help" doesn't aptly describe her book, I would beg to differ.  Brown is a shame researcher who through her work stumbled upon trends amongst people who were living "wholeheartedly" (her term).  She describes ways in which we can all strive for wholehearted living, and while I could appreciate her research-based approach and advice, I found myself skimming by the end, but that is probably more because of my low tolerance for self-help than her writing style or content.  If you are into self-help books, this is probably a good one for you.  My personal overall rating: 2 out of 5 stars.

Adoration: The Untold Story of Mary of Bethany  Can I just say I've not been so emotionally moved by a piece of nonfiction that I cried?  Well, this one did it.  This book delves into the lives of Mary and Martha, the famous sisters of the Bible.  Martha was chided for being a busy body, Mary praised for living in the moment and worshiping at Jesus's feet.  I was so touched by Martha Kilpatrick's portrayal of Mary and her relationship with the Lord, though I do question if she took some liberties in her interpretation of scripture (perhaps there are more historical texts that helped provide some of her facts?).  Regardless, her poetic style of writing left me worshiping while reading and desiring to fall more deeply in love with Jesus.  Overall rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars


Thanks to Catherine's recommendations, I began reading my first Bernard Cornwell novels and started with The Warrior Chronicles/Saxon Series.  If you enjoy historical fiction (these particular novels are set in medieval England) and battle scenes (think Braveheart), this series is for you.  I've flown through the first four novels in the series within a week and hope to finish the final two this week.

The Last Kingdom  We meet our protagonist and warrior hero as a young boy.  Son of an "ealdorman" and Lord, Uhtred is captured by Danish invaders and raised as one of their own, and though he loves his adopted family, his loyalty lies forever divided between Saxon England and the Danes who raised him.  Nevertheless, he fights amongst the Danes as they raid England and capture all but Wessex, the last kingdom.   Overall rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars.

The Pale Horseman  Uhtred regains his English roots and fights alongside King Alfred the Great to defend Wessex from the Danes.  Overall rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars

Lords of the North  Uhtred returns to Northumbria, England's northern kingdom and home to his boyhood home.  In order to recapture his rightful inheritance, he must defeat the "Lords of the North" but in the process is betrayed and loses sight of his dreams.  Rating: 4.5 stars

Sword Song  Uhtred returns to Wessex and is again Alfred's man who must defend London from the Northmen and rescue Alfred's daughter who has been kidnapped.  Rating: 4.5 stars