Parenting: The Science/Art of Prediction

When the boys were young, the day care center parking lot drove me crazy. Young kids are short enough that drivers cannot see them when backing up and every time I picked up or dropped off, I worried that a kid would be hit by a car in reverse. The new video technology is helping but it doesn’t guarantee anything. Kids in parking lots still stress me. This past weekend, the younger two helped me go grocery shopping. They eagerly unloaded groceries from the coveted “car-driving” cart into the back of our van. Without thinking, I stepped to the side of the van to put the “don’t-want-it-smushed” bread into the front seat. Then I heard a man yelling. The car beside me had started backing up at the same time that The Little Guy had decided to move our cart backwards to take it to the corral. The man’s yells stopped the driver moments after she had already bumped into the cart and into my son. He was fine. He was protected by the cart and by his angels. But the woman was in tears and I was in disbelief. I had failed to be there. Failed to predict my son’s movements. Failed to predict the driver’s movements. Failed to protect from harm. Lifting up thanks as we drove away, I reviewed the situation with the boys trying to reinforce safety.

Parenting, it really boils down to one’s ability to predict. Science or art….hard to tell.

And this starts early, shortly after the mesmerizing awe of the newborn look and smell. Soon, the parent is desperately trying to predict the infant’s sleep cycle. If the baby falls asleep at 9:00 pm, do you predict he or she will wake up at 11:00 and therefore there’s no reason for you to get to sleep yet, or might the little cherub sleep until 1:00 am and you can delight in at least 2-3 hours of peaceful rest. After a night or two, or a year or two, you realize there’s absolutely no rhyme or reason to a kids’ sleep cycle and you might as well give up trying to predict anything!

The toddler years are the nightmarish, desperate attempts at predicting the Tasmanian devil’s every movements. Is she too close to the steps and about to tumble down? Is he going to flush that Match Box car down the toilet or is he just happily driving it along the bathtub rim? Is she likely to choke on that piece of food? Is he going to bump his head on the glass table or duck just in time? Apparently at this age, unpredictability is the only predictable aspect of parenting.

You feel like you have a sigh of relief as they enter into the school-age years. Now they can dress themselves, feed themselves, sort-of toilet themselves, and sometimes even entertain themselves for practically an hour (if some electronic device is involved!). You start to feel smug and almost have empathy when you see the bedraggled parents of toddlers chasing kids down the grocery aisle. But then you rapidly realize that there’s a whole new level of prediction which is further complicated by trying to predict interactions with and influences of other children as well. “I’m sorry your friend just blocked you from Minecraft chat. It wouldn’t possibly have anything to do with the fact that you just blew up his carefully constructed building, would it?”

It’s a brain-spinning nightmare, really. The more experience you have with kids, the more adept you get at this game of parenting prediction, but really there is no level of perfection that any parent could ever attain. My life is full of little moments of failing to predict kid behavior (scribbles on walls, broken TV sets, holes in the bedroom doors, plumbing emergencies for toy extraction) interspersed with near constant mental energy trying to predict larger and more consequential situations.

For example, currently I’m trying to predict the likelihood that a guy who goes by the name James will continue to use my address as a meet-up point for people trying to sell electronics on an app. When they arrive, he approaches and then runs off with their item. Within minutes, he has it up on the app for sale. The local police seem unconcerned and apathetic. My neighbors seem to consider it “interesting.” Property management seems to be pondering what to do. I seem to be the one stressed that victims will eventually get fed up with “James” and come storm my townhome. The question is, will I and the boys be home then?

So, here’s my conclusion. There’s no way we as parents or as humans could possibly predict everything that would befall our kids or us. We get better with each experience, we rely on family and friends to lend advice, we pray and we hope, and that’s the best we can do.

For now, I’ll predict that my boys are going to be really excited about an upcoming surprise and that the first winter snow that is falling tonight. That’s about as much as I can predict. And that’s good enough.

 

 

 

 

 

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Why It Matters: I Choose Love

I’m not just going to get over it. It matters to me.

I didn’t sleep Tuesday night. I lay in bed checking the electoral count every 5 minutes. When the Associated Press called it, fireworks went off in my neighborhood. For the first time in a long time, I felt fear in my heart. Gunshots in the neighborhood a few weeks ago did not even compare to this fear. Fireworks to celebrate the election of a man who for over a year has publicly spewed words of hatred and anger, racism and sexism, disrespect and disregard for thousands upon thousands of people, this act of celebration pierced my heart.

In the morning, my eldest son woke up. Having followed the election from the periphery, he knew that Trump was unkind, but he certainly didn’t know the depth of it all. When his eyes opened, I said, “Son, Trump was chosen.” “Oh, okay,” he replied. I said, “No, son, He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named was just elected our president.”

“Oh, that’s bad. Very bad.”

This is not about taking “sides.” This is not about policies and politics. This is about choosing dignity and who will represent Americans to its own citizens and to the face of the world. #notmypresident is the cry that this man does not represent the feelings and passions of so many people. And I cannot tolerate disrespect and violence against my children, my family, my friends and my fellow humans.

I can not tolerate that my 7-year-old scribbled this note and tried to hide it in his room one night this week. When I asked him about it, he replied, “Because I am stupid.” And the pain touches me and I wonder where he is hearing these words that pierce his soul.nate-name

As I lay there into the early morning hours of Wednesday, the words below formed in my heart and I jotted them down. This morning (Sunday), I asked my ten-year-old to write the second half of the poem and handed him my computer.

Listen to his voice. This is why it matters to me.

When you walk in white skin
You stride through the world
Open doors and shake hands,
Look in people’s eyes with confidence.
When you walk in white skin
You feel safe, respected, untouchable
Assuming that you have the right to what you want.
When you walk in white skin
You say “I am not racist, I don’t even notice the color of skin,”
Because your eye has already seen the flesh upon your arms and it is content.

When you walk in white skin
You must force yourself to consider a walk in the shoes of another….

For….

When you walk in black skin…

Kids pick on me!
“Your black and I am white so you listen to me” they say.
Someone punched me in the stomach!
Sometimes it bothers me
Sometimes I feel bad inside
Sometimes it makes me get mad
Sometimes it makes me get annoyed
Sometimes it makes me get angry
Sometimes I am lonely.

THE END

 

It’s not that I don’t accept a “change.” It’s that I won’t accept mistreatment of human beings who were created by and loved by the Almighty God. I will not accept evil.

"Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince"

“Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince”

It Matters to me.

love-quotes-darkness-cannot-drive-out-darkness-only-light-can-do-that-hate-cannot-drive-out-hate-only-love-can-do-that

I Choose Love.
On behalf of my boys of brown skin, I choose love.
On behalf of my family and friends, I choose love.
On behalf of everyone who is scared and hurting, I choose love.
On behalf of the oppressed, I choose love.
On behalf of you, I choose love.

 

micah6-8

 

 

 

Bits of Trauma

It was a couple of small pops followed by some strange noises that I couldn’t decide if they were animal or human. It was 9:30 at night and I was walking the little dog a few doors down from our home in the “townhome” side of our rental community. The next morning, my neighbor asked if I heard the gunfire as I greeted him while taking the dog out again. My fears were confirmed when a friend from the township police department called to let me know there had been gunfire, broken window, and argument, but no arrests. “Probably drug related,” he suggested.

Gunshots in the apartment side of the community. Gunshots fired in the building adjacent to the playground where my children swing and slide and jump their bikes off any possible knoll. Gunshots that could be a stray bullet piercing one of my precious sons.

I immediately put in a call to the property management office for the boss to call me and sent an email. He called back later the following afternoon. He had no concern and certainly had no plan to address the issue. “I can’t control who people invite over,” he responded. “No, we won’t extend the fence line; that would be expensive.” “The police do patrol,” he answered – “never seen them patrol,” I argued – “well, it’s at random times.” (Hmmm, nope, no one in the neighborhood has ever seen them patrol either.) Every suggestion I made, he had no interest in. “I’ll pass your concerns to my supervisor,” he concluded. I informed him that I was “tremendously disappointed in your clear lack of concern for the safety of the people who live here and for the children.” And then I left a message for the regional manager; and I’m still waiting a return call.

You see, last Friday we got a “letter” in our mailboxes saying that of all the nerve, there have been reports of kids riding their bikes on these dead-end streets and that from now on, all children must be supervised at all times when playing outside. I didn’t see on that letter that there have been any reports of people driving faster than the posted 10mph while on the same streets as the kids, but I pretty happily give these drivers the universal “slow down” hand signals when they come cruising along. I’m just wondering why management in their wisdom doesn’t want to put out a letter to help the entire community feel safer about the recent gunfire “incident.”

So this weekend, I took it upon myself to personally say hello to my neighbors, ask if they heard about the “incident” and let them know that “management” doesn’t want to have anything to do with it. I am therefore asking each of them to be more vigilant and keep an eye out for each other. I am asking them to call the police immediately if they notice anything troubling. I am asking them to speak up if they have a concern.

My boys have heard these conversations. We’ve talked about it many times. We’ve set new boundaries for where they can play and ride their bikes. We’ve reviewed safety guidelines. They seem to be coping better than I am. For they have the great perspective of a protected child; they can look at the adults around them and feel safe and loved.

Probably what was more “traumatic” to Super Tall Guy this week is that he twisted his ankle jumping on a “Jump Pad” at a local corn maze. He hobbled around for the foot-bootafternoon complaining that he couldn’t have any fun. He crawled around the floor the next morning until his aunt dropped off a pair of crutches. Finally he succumbed to my urging to get it checked and he walked out of there in a boot with a nondisplaced avulsion fracture in the ankle. Yes, he will likely remember this weekend of me downplaying his pain while my head and heart were wrapped around the needs of the community.foot-broken

It takes a village, they always say. We live in a small “village” here. Apparently our “leaders” are much more interested in collecting rent checks than providing safety, but we shall continue on and do what we can to protect each other and support each other. And we as parents certainly are looking out for each other’s kids.

And yet I shall continue to look for a new house….while also making sure that I land in another “village” to wrap around us all.

Why getting to know each other matters (based on a horrific example)

There is such a sad story from my neighboring community this weekend – a 22-year-old mother was found dead on her bed and her 10-month-old baby dead nearby in the living room. Her cause of death is unknown and his is suspected to be a result of dehydration and starvation. The story is not yet complete and details are still unfolding, but the family and the neighborhood is reeling. And the neighbors who live in the same apartment building are wracked with guilt.

My soul aches since hearing the news. I fall asleep thinking of a little boy crawling around on the floor searching….searching for food….searching for water…searching for his mother….crying out for someone to help him. And though his cries were heard, the incredible weight of them, the life and death significance of them were not known until too late.

“If I took the time to get to know her I probably could have helped her” said a tenant in the same building as quoted in the newspaper story.

His remorse hit me. We have gone too far. We have let too much distance exist between us. When parents are afraid to reach out for help, we are letting them down and we are putting children at risk. When people worry that their neighbor will “call child protective services” against them, we are pitting family against family. When we lose a sense of community and of watching out for one another, we become isolated and lonely and we cannot thrive.

We need to change. We need to reach out to each other. We need to carry each other’s burdens. We need to take the time to get to know each other.

I am parenting three young boys. I’ve made a point of meeting my neighbors. I let a nearby friend know that she’s number one back-up call in emergencies since she’s the one closest to us. I’ve talked to my children about what to do if x, y or z. I sincerely thank friends who offer help whenever needed and I reciprocate the offer, pausing to look them in the eye to solidify our agreement. I frequently think about the community that surrounds my family and whether I’ve built up enough of a buffer base for my children.

Last week, my middle son turned six years old. His birthday party was attended by three

Cupcakes decorated to match my son's typical drawings.

Birthday cupcakes decorated to match my son’s typical drawings.

boys from his day care center, one boy who used to attend day care with him, two boys from his prior kindergarten class, one boy from his new kindergarten class, one boy from the neighborhood, and two boys from friends of the family. I looked around the room with a smile as they sang Happy Birthday To You, off-key. My son’s net is wide. There are many connections. There need to be for him to know that he is loved, that the world is full of good people, and that there are people who will come if he cries.

Every child needs love and protection and a wide, wide net.

Take the time to get to know one another. It just might matter.

 

 

 

 

Mommy Caps (for sale)

I don’t wear hats. I don’t have a this-hat-fits-nicely head. But I wear many (way toocaps-for-sale many hats) in my work and in my life. I’m that sales(wo)man in “Caps for Sale” with a whole stack of caps on my head. But unlike him – some days I’d love for the monkeys to steal all my caps and just leave me sleeping soundly under the tree.

Work hats aside, there are plenty of “mommy” hats for me.

There’s the Mean mommy. I’m the one that makes the boys pick their clothes off the floor and put them in the hamper….and then come back and get that forlorn sock that escaped and put it in the hamper too. That’s the mildest form of Mean Mommy – I come in raging-lava, steaming-head form too.

Fortunately, mean mommy is often countered by Loving mommy. Somehow the phrase “give me lovings” has entered the house and it means, “Mommy, I’m hurt/sad/scared ….and just need a hug” or long to still be able to fit on your lap since I’m only 6, though over half your body weight. “Lovings” are good. Lovings are safe and healing.

There’s also the I’m very tired mommy. She’s the one that is not handling the time change well because her “night owl” body clock is fighting the Spring Ahead while still having to rise at a most awful early morning hour. This Mommy snaps at the slightest thing, like wanting to play with the “bestest mask ever” that I made in daycare two months ago and just sighted in your office and had forgotten about but would now really like to play with despite you yammering on and on something about “no, it’s time for bed.”

Very closely related is the I had a very long day at work mommy who would do just about anything to have 10 minutes to herself when walking in the door, but since she picked up one boy one the way home from work and is anticipating the hungry cries of two other boys about to enter the door, she just moves into the “I’m very tired mommy” mode.

One of the best is the Playful Mommy. She’s “awesome,” she’s “cool,” she’s “the bestest ever.” I like this mommy personally. I’d like to spend a bit more time with her. She wrestles, she plays hide-and-seek even though she hates the game, she throws footballs in the living room and chases you around the inner running track lanes of the house. She’s just so much fun, but too often pushed aside by those other mommies and just not around as much as some poor guys would like.

Naturally, there’s also

The Chauffer Mommy – which lesson, game, sport, school, playground are we going to today, my dear?

The Chief Cook and Bottle Washer Mommy – You will not have chicken nuggets for dinner again, my young jedi, despite your wily mind-trick attempts.

The Shopping Mommy – bread, milk, chicken nuggets, pull-ups, chicken nuggets, little mocha for me, chicken nuggets…

The Dreamily Romantic Mommy – my how beautiful and angelic they are….so peaceful….so asleep… so….whoa! what’s that smell?….aw, Seth, not again!!

This week though, we’ve been visited by the Sad Mommy whose heart is heavy with news of a missionary family who just lost their precious toddler daughter after being in Kenya for only five weeks. And I look at my boys and I think – how could I ever handle losing one of them? How could you cope with the what-ifs – what if I had done something different?  So I become the scared mommy….the protective mommy….the quiet mommy… the oh-my-goodness-life-is-so-fragile mommy.

And I realize I have what I have today and only today. A boy who beams with pride for finally receiving his martial arts gi, a squirrely sprite whose eyes twinkle as he flies off the edge of the couch into my arms, and a huggable little elf wrapping himself around my leg. My three sons.

Hold them tight – no matter which cap is on the head.