We All Fall Down (Project Posterity: The COVID Chronicles)

Friends, it is a cluster.

A legit, what-the-heck-nightmare-did-I just-wake-up-in cluster.

E-learning, I mean, for those of you who have no idea what the HELL ON EARTH I’m referring to.

E-learning in, Jamie out: today, in the face of 1st grade literature and 4th grade art, I lost it.

To my credit, it was the first time I’ve lost it during the entire course of the COVID affair. I’m kind of proud it took me this long.

For about 30 minutes this morning I was just flat out angry. Angry with the kids for fighting. Angry with the dogs for barking. Angry at Google for creating a terrible classroom program. Angry at the disease that led us to this place.

We started at 9am and by 9:57, I was in tears. Not that the kids noticed, but I was.

Teachers are trying their hardest. I believe administrators are as well. But this is new to everyone, and the learning curve is steep. Do we watch the videos first or look at the messages? Why am I still getting stuff on Dojo? What’s with the 404 error—I was just there 2 seconds ago!

And I’m an over-educated, tech savvy SAHM. I can’t imagine what this mess is like for non-English speakers; people working, whether from home or not; those doing school on cell phones in parking lots to use the wifi; disabled students; special education students; and the list goes on.

This is hard.

But we’re doing it. We’re all doing it. We’re going to get it right sometimes and wrong other times, and I think that’s okay. No, I know that’s okay. Really.

But I digress.

At some point in the mess of today everything kind of clicked. I grabbed onto that moment and hung on for dear life, rushing to write down the daily schedule that I hope will work for us over the course of this Corona School adventure. I beg you—please, please, please don’t breathe on it; if you do, it will fall apart. It’s only tied by a thread.

I’m 100% sure that this is easier than it seems. Truly. But the universal “we” are overloaded and can’t get the brain power together for just One More Thing. One more is too much. It pushes us over edges we didn’t know were there until it was too late to turn around. So, we fall.

Do you remember playing Ring Around the Rosie? It was supposedly written in a time of plague, but that actually isn’t true. It was simply a game.

Today, in our own time of plague, I can’t help but think of that song. Not as a representation of us all carrying posies to ward off disease or falling to our deaths, but instead as a representation of our common plight and the support we’re scrounging deep inside our own disheveledness to find for one another.

You know the part where it says, “we all fall DOWN!” and everyone collapses into a giggling heap, thrilled with themselves and maybe slightly dizzy from holding hands and spinning around? Well, that’s us right now. All of us across America. OK, maybe not holding actual hands because, you know, coronavirus, but nonetheless holding metaphorical hands through text chains, social media, Zoom, and FaceTime. Watching the whole world spin around us, knowing that any minute we will fall, but also knowing that’s okay, because we won’t fall down alone: we will all be in that dizzy heap together. And when we’re done laughing at our collective ridiculousness, we will lift each other up, finding our feet under us once again.

Today isn’t over yet and I don’t know what the remaining hours will bring. Whatever it is, however, I may forget. Because the COVID memory I will put to words today is one of a child’s game, a playground and friends standing close, laughing, singing a song of roses and ashes that ends not when the players fall, but rather when they help one another to rise.

Things Best Not Forgotten (Project Posterity: The COVID Chronicles)

Today we played badminton and cursed the wind, chasing the birdies through the year’s first grass before the dogs could get them.

Today is the last day before online lessons are given for a grade, but my fourth grader finds herself wanting to do the optional ones anyway, to do work she could choose not to do. But still she wears pajamas, fights me about brushing her hair. We are, after all, at home.

We counted the days of online school to come, clocked it at only 12 though it somehow feels an infinite number before us. In counting we assumed a return date that isn’t set in stone, but rather in each other and how well Americans manage to stay at home.

I call this Day 18.

Eighteen days of togetherness in which everything has changed: How we eat, sleep, shop, parent. How we read the news, communicate, say our prayers, and breathe.

I’ve yet to sew a face mask.

I have a machine, and cloth, and thread, but lack discernable sewing talent and so I doubt I’ll be posting pictures of colorful face coverings anytime soon. But a sincere thank you to those whom God has blessed with the gift of stitching us together, weaving half measures into whole.

I just found out our neighbor is an ER doctor. I didn’t know. But now a neighborhood email has been sent and read that tells me this is true. Tomorrow we will gather outside his home as he returns from his shift at a now empty hospital, the calm before the storm that is projected to hit our state in 16 days. Which is fewer than the infinite 18 in which we’ve lived fully into our homes.

I still see neighbors walking their dogs with one another. Kids riding bikes down the empty streets. I shake my head and close the curtains with a sigh.

When did we start judging people for how close they stand to one another as they amble in togetherness? And when will this judging stop? I wonder.

The day so far is beautiful, despite the wind. My three children are enjoying the sun together, dodging dogs and their messes, laughing as the wind carries a birdie ten feet away one minute, then backwards the next. My youngest has worn the same clothes five days now; he wants to set a record. I told him he already has, but he just laughed and kept them on: Florescent green shorts and a maroon Razorbacks shirt handed down from a cousin whose sister just cut his hair because all the salons are closed. I was impressed with how well she did.

My mom has a mask. One mask. She uses it for Kilz and sawdust and the other noxious fumes and particles of construction. “Should I ask Collin if he wants to wear it when he goes out for us?” she asked me this morning. Collin is in his 20s and likely the best suited of us to risk exposure.

“I don’t know,” I said. Because I don’t.

There’s so little I know these days, other than a schedule really helps, but so does pretending it’s not a schedule at all; else the kids might revolt. I’ve learned if the house isn’t tidy I can’t do this thing we’re all doing together separately. I’ve learned to hit refresh on Prime Now to snag a delivery spot as soon as one opens, and how to wipe down a box of cereal to make sure it doesn’t kill my mom. I’ve learned we’re all amazingly resilient, but I also wonder how that day will feel when it finally comes. The day the kids return to school. The husband to traveling for work. The house as empty as it ever is, which is to say it’s down to 2 adults and their barking dogs. That moment, when it comes, will be strange, I think. Happy but a little sad, a celebratory moment of peace, but also a moment of loss, as I send my kids away.

For now, I’m keeping them in check with prizes. They draw post-its from a once-red bowl, now orange from time and washing. These post-its hold their next task, whether fun or work, and they earn points upon the task’s completion. At the end of the day, or perhaps two, they are rewarded prizes for how well and nicely they performed their tasks. So far the rewards have been gifts purchased for birthday parties never held: the virus has halted even the earth’s movement around the sun.

Andy and I agreed last night that it will be a shame when we go back to how things were. Moments of rushing and shushing to get where we’re supposed to be. To hurried bedtimes that happen right after tired dinners that happen right after Andy gets home. To times when I can’t—or think I can’t—sit in the shade of a beautiful day, watching my three laugh over failed serves, fighting against the sun dots dancing before their eyes.

It is wonderful. And quiet. And joyful. It’s all the things parenting should be. Perhaps that’s why I’m writing this so early in the day when there are still so many hours left to come: This is a moment to hold on to, to reread in coming years. There is much to remember about these crazy days, but the sun and wind and laughter are the ones I hope to remember most.

badminton

Preventing Child Abuse in a Pandemic: Helpful Tips

Our current national landscape is one of physical isolation. A recent Washington Post-ABC poll found that 9 out of 10 Americans are staying home right now, either because of stay-at-home orders, or because they fear getting or spreading the novel coronavirus. That almost 300 million Americans are homebound and probably will be for an extended period of time is extraordinary and unprecedented in our lifetime. A portion of the homebound are continuing to earn a paycheck and while the stressors of COVID-19 for that group of people are very real, there is another portion of the homebound suffering much great repercussions from this pandemic.

The Department of Labor reported that last week alone, 3.28 million people applied for unemployment. This is more than four times the previously highest recorded number. For the 75% of Americans already facing the stress of living paycheck to paycheck, things just got considerably worse. Add to that the strain of fear and anxiety of a pandemic; the social isolation we must all endure; that children are home without the support (and break) given by schools or childcare; and the strain on already overburdened social services and you have a recipe for domestic disaster. And that list barely scratches the surface of the host of family-specific issues each household bears.

If history is any indicator, the result of domestic disaster will fall disproportionally on our most vulnerable; cases of child abuse and neglect (as well as domestic violence) will rise sharply while reports of the same will drop drastically: with schools and childcare centers closed, the sharpest eyes and ears of our child welfare reporting system—our teachers—are closed as well. And like so many things with this pandemic, one problem becomes compounded by another: Even as more children than ever are home 24/7 with their families, social workers are unable to conduct home visits with those already in the child welfare system due to abuse and neglect and are similarly unable to visit homes when new reports do occur.

Services previously provided to families—such as drug treatment and mental health services—are severely limited or non-existent due to social distancing requirements, and family visitations are often not occurring, potentially leading to a downward spiral of hopelessness and depression for parents and teens who may turn towards drugs, alcohol, or other damaging acts to ease the pain. All of this combined leads to a significantly increased risk of harm behind the closed doors of American homes. Sadly, there is little most of us can do to fix these problems: Children’s outdoor areas are emptier now than ever, and we simply are unable to keep a collective eye on children and suffering families the way we need to.

But that isn’t to say there is nothing we can do, and what we can do, we should.

Stress of all kinds is a significant contributing factor to abuse and neglect. Tempers are short, resources scarce to non-existent, and tools some are fortunate enough to have for comfort—Zoom calls with friends; virtual “playdates” for children; paying for online games, movies, and school substitutes to keep the children occupied—are not easily obtained by lower income families. And even the families who have the resources may find they aren’t enough.

But don’t give up! There are ways we can help families from all backgrounds, though I will admit that many of the ones I’ve listed below assume that the person helping has resources of their own to draw from (time, money, or energy). A few of these might help our most significantly at-risk families—those with serious addictions, long family histories of abuse, or the types of terrible things we read about in the media—but others wouldn’t. But again, what we can do, we should.

Abuse knows no economic, cultural, or societal bounds. From my years working with families already in the child welfare system, I can promise you that. I can also say that the simplest assistance, and perhaps the silliest sounding, might be all that’s needed to avert a catastrophe.

Consider a morning from my own life:

I, an obsessively tidy mother, sit in the middle of an increasingly cluttered home. My back and feet hurt, and the younger kids are arguing loudly while the oldest child tries to get some much needed sleep. Andy, a hard-working and busy father, already stressed from hiding in the walk-in closet to do Zoom calls where kids can’t find him, too loudly shushes the arguing kids. The kids begin to complain about the unfairness of it all and I try to intervene while stumbling over the puppy pulling on my socks and biting my toes. The other dog begins to bark at a person walking by, and both Andy and I begin to shush the dogs. The kids’ voices grow louder to be heard over the din of shushes and barks, and my mom, who lives with us, suddenly appears in the kitchen, asking why her dog is barking and saying she may need to go to the hospital for stomach pains but is scared to because of the virus so what do I think she should do and can I please contact her doctor for her? The gardeners begin mowing next door and within a minute we all hear a door slam from upstairs because the 24-year-old has frustratingly given up on getting any sleep.

Our situation eventually resolves as best it can: Andy takes one kid to do a puzzle and I take the other to bake some bread, but not before I hop on one of the four laptops in our home to email a doctor, free of charge and easily accessible, about my mom. Sad to say, the oldest is still tired and the dogs still bark, but few things in life are perfect.

In this scenario, the main fridge is stocked, as are the one fridge and two freezers in the garage. We always buy in bulk so our toilet paper situation is fine. The same pay the adults usually get is still coming in, and the grandmother who walked into the kitchen at an inopportune time lives in the home and can watch the children should that be needed. Oh, and I have plenty of time to spend with the children and enough education to help them with their e-learning during our school’s closure.

And still, this isn’t a pretty situation. Imagine if:

  • The fridge was bare
  • The parents had just lost their jobs
  • There was no adult in the home with available time for the kids
  • Any one—or all—of the four adults had a substance abuse problem or untreated mental health issue

This scene could have ended in a very different and explosive way.

And so:

Think about your own circle of people, as far as it can go. Who in that circle is most in need of a break right now? Do you know any single parents? Someone who struggles with addiction? A family with a small home but a large number of kids? Someone who lost a job? Who is sick? Who is prone to anxiety and depression? The list could go on, and it should. Make an actual, physical list of people in your life facing larger-than-average stressors. Do you have their phone number? Their email addresses? Do they live within driving distance? Write those things down as well, then:

  • Call them. Talk to them. Ask to speak to the children for a while. Maybe read the kids a book over the phone or on FaceTime if possible.
  • Text them. Ask how they are. Tell them how you are. Send a funny meme. Ask if they need anything. Or don’t ask, but just assume they need something and then …
  • if possible, get it to them. Mail them $20 or a grocery store gift card. Leave food or other necessities (or non-necessities!) on their steps. Shop for them if they’re in a high-risk group. No, money doesn’t solve everything, but it can certainly help at times like this.
  • If you’re lucky enough to have a bit of income to spare (and hey, we’re all going without our lattes these days), order something online to send to the kids to keep them distracted. Or send chocolates for the parents. Loan them an extra laptop by leaving it on their porch and letting them use it for Google Hangout or online school or even just mindless show watching. Again, these are money and material things, but if you can do it, please do. We may not like to admit it, but material things do often help.
  • Kids are still going outside, even if not to designated playgrounds. When they’re out, pay attention. Do they seem okay? Do the adults who are with them seem okay? What do you notice? Don’t turn into the nosy neighbor peeking out from behind the curtain—that’s just weird. You’re likely a savvy enough person to find a non-stalking way to do this. If you see signs of abuse or neglect report it, even if your state’s current isolation situation means a social worker can’t make it out for a while the risk still needs to be recorded. Then make it your daily commitment to help that family any way possible.
  • Offer to watch younger kids (but who old enough not to need hand holding or carrying) outside while their adults take a break. You don’t have to forgo social distancing rules to make this happen.
  • Have a six-foot-away playdate with your kids and theirs.
  • Take a social distance walk together. Or talk to one another from your own front doors.
  • Send them a card in the mail. A homemade one is fine, so you only have to pay for the stamp.
  • Offer to walk their dogs (seriously, don’t underestimate the power of this!)
  • Volunteer with or donate to groups that are helping those in the most financial need.
  • Donate not just food, money, and cleaning products, but board games, movies, electronics, coloring books—anything that can entertain children/teens or provide relief for parents. Do the same with any and all income groups if/when you think it might be helpful.
  • And, of course, pray for them.

Here are some other resources for how you can help at-risk families during this pandemic:

End Violence Against Children

The Alliance for Children in Humanitarian Action

Prevent Child Abuse

What you will find using these resources is a significant emphasis on stress reduction. Because that is what so much of this is truly about. Stress decreases our abilities to appropriately cope with even typical events such as arguing or crying children. And without appropriate coping abilities, typical situations can quickly turn to situations of abuse, even for families who otherwise would never find themselves taking such harmful actions.

Feel free to make your own list of stress reduction ideas for how we can assist those in need during this time. Act on those ideas and do it now. It’s never too soon to help a family in need, but it is often too late.

Parents, You Are Rocking it Right Now. I Promise.

I’ve spent more time on Facebook and the interwebs in general in the last two weeks than I have perhaps all year. Not because I’m cooped up at home—I’m always home anyway—but because I so desperately want to know what’s next in this whole mess. Hitting refresh on pages or chatting with friends online or posting on Facebook helps pass the time but also helps me feel better somehow. Like since none of us know what’s next then it’s all okay. Which makes zero sense but there it is.

In my new life of Facebook binging, I’ve noticed several common COVID-19 themes:

  • Lots of accusations of parents hating their children because said parents are complaining about being with their kids
  • Lots of comments about alcohol consumption regarding those complaints
  • Lots of frustration by homeschooling parents at the use of the word “homeschool”
  • Lots of support for one another in this stupid crazy time

So. Let’s take them one by one.

1) Parents do not hate their kids. Parents love their kids. A lot. Parents are complaining for a multitude of reasons that have nothing whatsoever to do with the amount of love they have for their kids. This s**t is hard, folks. We are home 24/7 with kids who we love, but who are kids and therefore are not meant to be cooped at home and are thus going crazy just like we all are. They cannot (presumably) drink their frustrations away like many parents appear to be doing (more on that later), complain on Facebook about their crappy parents, or get in the car and go for a drive. All they can do is complain bitterly and turn up their music and rudeness level (teens); whine and ask for snacks, screen time, and answers to when this will end (pre-teens); and bounce of the walls, cry, complain, and protest their parents-turned-teachers demanding they sit down and work when home is supposed to be a place of refuge from the pressures of school (little kids/all kids).

We don’t have kids without thinking and then complain about them. We have kids, love them, complain anyway, then snuggle them to sleep. I mean, do we ever complain about spouses/jobs/pets/cars/houses/etc.? Of course. Does that mean we hate them? Nope! So parents, ignore those saying you hate your kids because you complain. Go ahead and vent because that’s what keeps so many of us sane. If it makes you feel better, add an obligatory “I love my kids but …” but know that you don’t have to. Most of us get it. We get you, because we are you.

2) Do folks really drink as much as the memes would imply? I had no idea! I’ll admit that does worry me a bit, and it worries me too that our kids (universal) will see the memes and jokes and think drinking is a way to solve problems. But, see number one above. Jokes are jokes, and many of these memes and comments are likely just that. I personally find it strange, but a strange without the teeth of judgment behind it. Hope that’s okay.

3) We are doing school. At home. So, given the rules of compound words, we are indeed homeschooling. I think we get that what we’re doing because of school closures is not the same as what those who homeschool on a daily basis are doing. There are co-ops and apps for that. Play groups and specialized resources. We are not there. But it’s semantics, folks, and this is no time to argue semantics or be offended by the use of a sensical combination of words to explain what we are doing to keep our children from suffering educational losses. It’s okay, really. So homeschool away, everyone, and may the force be with you. All of you. No matter what.

4) Oh, there are hearts. And rainbows. And chalk art and Zoom groups and driveway tea times and my kid had a playdate with the neighbor kids from literally across the street: He stood on one side and they stayed on the other and they called it playing “together.” We are in it to win it, folks, except maybe for those who are price gouging TP and hand sanitizer. (Seriously, today I saw a 12-pack of TP for $75 on Amazon!) The stories of support and caring are legion, and I am beyond impressed. For every story of craptasticness, there are 10 of awesomeness. So keep being awesome. I’ll try to as well, but on occasion I’ll likely complain about my kids. Maybe even my husband. But I promise that I love them.

For real, there is an increase right now in child abuse, domestic violence, and other horrific things. This is real stress about real things, and even though this too shall pass, it isn’t clear yet what it will look like on the other side. For some, like me, things will be nice and rosy. For others, not so much. Please, let’s hold each other in prayer, and in so doing, please remember our school districts and our teachers who are struggling along with the rest of us, deemed “non-essential,” yet working from home with their own kids screaming in the background and their own issues to deal with.

And now I will go because Jeffery, my Instacart shopper, is texting me that 800 of the items I ordered are out of stock and no, butter lettuce is not a sufficient replacement for a grain bowl.

Perhaps $75 for TP isn’t so bad after all.

A Weary, Teary, and Dreary Day (At home. Again. With No End in Sight.)

I have, unfortunately, been through a lot in life. Because of that I tend to disassociate and over-compartmentalize, which is a cross my husband too often bears when he’s stressed over something and I’m like, “eh, no biggie.” But Tuesday was the day that I finally began to feel what’s going on in America and across the world, and each day since (okay, the like 1 day and a few hours since), I have felt it more acutely.

Today I woke up feeling “off.” I don’t sleep well in spring or summer despite black-out curtains and sleep aids. Last night I tossed and turned, and this morning I woke well before anyone else but stayed in bed so I didn’t wake the dogs. Of course, that eventually ended, and our 6th day of distancing began.

I’ve been staying up each night to make the schedule for the next day. Yesterday we were a bit more loosey-goosey and home-ec-ish, and we had more fights and snappiness then usual. So, today we’re back to academics. Andy and the kids are walking the dogs right now, and I’m supposed to be setting up STEM projects because that’s what Aaron’s first subject is on Thursdays at school.

But then I realized we thankfully we have lots of Kiwi Crate boxes on hand, and so instead of setting up ropes and levers and magnets and pullies, I’m writing this.

I find myself on the verge of tears today, but I’m not quite sure why. It is true I have a family member (who lives elsewhere) who almost certainly has coronavirus given her symptoms and recent travel. But she’s in her forties and quite healthy so I’m sure she’ll be fine. It is true that I love having my kids at home, but as an introvert, it’s difficult to give up the seven hours of kid-free time to which I’ve become accustomed. It’s also true that all my attempts to grocery shop online are failing, even at Amazon, due to shortages. And yes, I may just end up paying $11 for a bag of sugar because options are limited and I need to be able to bake.

The same shirts needing to be hung have been on my couch since the weekend.

And today it’s wet out. No biggie, but it’s dreary.

I’m doing my makeup every day. Putting on sweats (as is my usual), and starting the school day at 9:15. I’m still having my 1:30 coffee, and we’re still putting the kids to bed on time.

Those are good things. Routine is good. So is being willing to leave routine behind for something different. For whatever this moment in time is to you.

Overall, I’m not quite sure where the teariness comes from. Are you feeling this way, and if so, do you know why? Or maybe it’s like my feeling … a slight overwhelm (if a “slight” overwhelm can exist?) not rooted in depression but … in something else. A feeling of not-quite-rightness that has no concrete end in sight. I am a creature of habit but habits have no place in an isolated, quarantined, and locked-down world. I am developing new habits, though. Habits of dog walks, being more careful with my resources, being sure to reach out to others, and to appreciate those who reach out to me.

So reach out. Let me know how you are. Post it here in the comments, or on Facebook or Twitter. If you know me personally, send me an email or a text! Phone calls are harder because, you know, kids. And dogs.

And in this moment, I hope you are making it through okay.

(Oh—and don’t forget to wash your hands!)

An Email to My Husband so He Knows I’m as Tired as He is

Subject: Timeline of events between 5 and 6:30 this morning, because I know you’ll want to know

5:14am—Aaron gets in bed with us

Some point after that—Oscar scratches the bedroom door because I fell asleep without crating him and you likely didn’t think about it, which makes sense since I’m the one who wanted a dog and you told me from the beginning you weren’t doing dog-chores and Oscar doesn’t listen to you anyway

Some point after—you wake up and let Oscar in the bedroom. He immediately joins us in bed, circles 827 times, then tries to dig a hole in the mattress.

Aaron sniffs, snorts, coughs, and spoons an unwilling Me, while I lie very still and try to sleep while also trying to will Oscar and Aaron to sleep. I’m unsure of your sleep status, but I assume it isn’t good

5:54am—Oscar licks Aaron because Aaron moved slightly in his sleep, thus indicating a willingness to be licked

5:55am—I get up with Oscar so maybe you and Aaron can stay asleep, and also to avoid any later comments about perhaps “not getting another dog in the first place”

5:56am to 6:16am—Oscar frantically searches for Bear until Bear gets up and scratches at the basement door while barking one bark every 42 seconds

I don’t know Nana is downstairs getting her robe on to take Bear out on a leash, so I let Bear out in the backyard, unleashed. He immediately barks because that is what Bear does.

Every.

Single.

Morning.

Nana comes up in her robe, but only after tripping on the big beanbag and grabbing onto the armchair for support, which then falls on top of her

Nana heroically stops Bear from barking simply by yelling his name through a crack in the backdoor

I watch backdoor number 2 from my position at door number 1. Nana is at door 2; the plan is to let Oscar out door 1 as soon as Bear goes in door 2.

I pat myself on the back when this works beautifully, but then realize Oscar ran straight out of door 1 and into door 2.

I sit, knowing you are awake and feeling very sad about that, yet am hopeful that Aaron has fallen asleep and you are at least comfy in bed.

Many random things occur, mostly involving dogs

I write this email.

6:17am—You cough, and I realize sadly that at least 5 of 6 household inhabitants are awake. 😦

The end

 

Intentional Adulting

Having been away from teaching Sunday School for a while due to health reasons, I am THRILLED to finally be back at it. And when I say thrilled, I mean bound-out-of-bed-happy-three-hours-before-church-even-starts kind of thrilled.

Anyone who knows me—virtually or otherwise—knows how much I love children. Put me in a room split into kids and adults and I will always find some reason why I should be in the kid group. I’m pretty sure part of the reason for this is because my own childhood ended too soon when I became a mom at fifteen. Or maybe it’s because I’ve lost a child and through that gained a different (and hopefully uncommon) perspective.

But rather than try to pinpoint it, I think it’s safe to assume it is the sum of various life experiences that has led me to discover and deeply understand the complexity, joy, and needs of childhood, as well as the honor it is to be an adult in a child’s life.

But let me be clear: children are not amazing because they are commodities. They aren’t amazing because they’re our future. They aren’t special because they may some day cure cancer or put a person on Mars or any of the other feats we all mention when looking into a child’s potential future. We make the mistake of defaulting to these ideas as well as descriptors such as  “innocent” and “joyful” because there are simply no words, or at least none I know, that can truly embody the essence of what makes children so special.

I stand in awe daily at the privilege it is to be in a child’s life, even if briefly. Every single interaction adults have with children is an opportunity to shape who they are, who they will become. How that child will parent, be called into God’s work, be a friend or a spouse or a random person passed on the street whose smile brightens a stranger’s day. Let that truth sit for a while until its enormity hits you.

That is huge and, frankly, overwhelming.

The collective “we” never know what might stick with a child forever and always, for good or for bad. We might never recognize that one off-hand comment that spirals their self-esteem, convinces them to be an astronaut, makes them feel they have failed everyone and everything, leads them to God.

That’s a lot of pressure. I don’t recommend thinking about it all the time; it’s too big a yoke to bear. But truthfully, it is our yoke. Not thinking about it all the time is one thing; never thinking about it is another. Perhaps adults should spend a few minutes each day reflecting on the fact that every word, action, or inaction that comes from our being shapes the children around us. Those mere few minutes should be more than enough to bring us to a place of intentionality in how we “adult,” at least most of the time.

I readily admit that I do get frustrated with my children. I’ve even met a couple of kids I didn’t like. And I am far from consistently intentional. That is my very human failure I attempt daily to rise above, but sadly too often fail. But my emphatic hope and prayer is that I live a life reflective of my privilege and responsibility as a shaper of human beings.

It is an awe-inspiring wonder that our system of human existence relies so heavily upon generational influence. That is no mistake, but rather the hand of the divine at play. My actions shape the small beings who live in my house or attend my Sunday School class or stand behind me in line at the store. Knowing that brings out the best in me which, in turn, brings out the best in others. Not always. Not perfectly. But some.

So take it seriously, folks. As frustrating and runny-nosed and loud and chaotic and time- and energy-sucking as they are, children deserve and need the best from us. And in the amazingly perfect symbiosis of our universe, when we give them our best, we too, get the best in return.

Post-Christmas Gingerbread Dilemma: A Solution in Ten Easy Steps

I don’t entirely love making gingerbread houses with the kids at Christmastime, but I do like it. Even if I didn’t, I’d do it anyway because in the Book of Mom it says I’m supposed to. This year we had bonus gingerbread fun by not only making our own at home (and by “making” I don’t mean “baking”—thank you, Trader Joe’s!) and going to a super cool gingerbread house birthday party.

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Super fun gingerbread party!

Despite how much fun this was, it also meant we had double the sugary construction taking up space in the kitchen. Of course, that also means double the sneaking of candy pieces, double the arguments over whether or not Aaron stole Rachel’s gingerbread girl, and double the “what the heck do I do with these houses now,” come January.

Thinking others may face this same dilemma, I thought I’d share what I do to solve the problem of gingerbread overabundance.

Step one: Make the houses, cursing the mess and arguing with Rachel about whether she can use the stand mixer to make the icing because I’m distracted by something else. Chastise Aaron for continuing to eat the icing/candy/cookies without permission and then lying about it despite a face covered in royal icing. Notice that the kids forgot to put something under their houses and examine the sprinkles that have found their way into the cracks and crevices of our reclaimed wood table. Know that my mother will notice the sprinkles and tell me once again she hates my (super cool) tabletop and wants to make me a new one. Pretend she isn’t correct when she claims bacteria might grow in its artistic and funky blemishes.

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Step two: put the finished houses on top of the dog crate in the kitchen because there’s no other convenient place for them. Leave them exposed to the elements for one+ month because what the heck else am I supposed to do?

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Step three: alternate between chastising the kids (okay, just Aaron) for sneaking pieces off and pretending I didn’t notice them (him) sneaking pieces off.

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Step four: mediate fights over Rachel’s (usually well-founded) suspicion that Aaron stole her candy figures.

Step five: forget they exist (the houses, not the kids)

Step six: during the January 2nd (or post-Epiphany) take-down-the-decorations storm—because by now I am SO TIRED of the Christmas clutter—debate what to do what the houses. Warn the kids that I will soon need to get rid of them (again, houses, not kids). Respond to their protests by giving them an arbitrary deadline by which they need to have said their goodbyes.

Step seven: Notice the deadline has come and gone yet the houses remain and no child has said goodbye. Add on a couple more days because I struggle with consistency.

Step eight: after a few more days pass and my frustration with remaining Christmas decorations has reached a new high, break the houses into pieces so they’ll fit into Ziplocs bags. Put them on the top shelf of the pantry just in case someone breaks down in tears once they notice the neighborhood of gingerbread people has been razed for new development.

Step nine: After a random period of time has passed—say, three days to three months—and no child has noticed their absence, toss the gingerbread in the trash and put lots of other trash on top of so kids don’t see any evidence of parental meanness.

Step ten: develop idiopathic amnesia (or perhaps it was brought on by overindulgence in pumpkin-flavored items?) in November and buy more gingerbread kits from Trader Joe’s before they sell out, eagerly anticipating the family fun that will come from decorating them with the kids while sipping cocoa and listening to Christmas carols.

And that’s all! By following these ten easy steps, you too can rid yourself of leftover gingerbread houses, guaranteed!

A Way to Help

The following is a testimony I gave at my church earlier this year. I have provided an update at its conclusion.

I spent summer and winter of 2018 in a state of rest that we half-jokingly called my “sabbatical.” This was a time for rest and healing and, as the balm of those two things took hold, of active listening for the Word of God. In those months I lost many things I knew I could not get back, but I also knew that as I healed, God would call me when and where I was needed. I now had time on my hands and space to breathe; all I needed was God to point me in the right direction.

A couple of months ago, Andy and I got an email from a local advocacy group asking if anyone would be willing to sponsor a family seeking asylum. The family was in Tijuana and wouldn’t be allowed to cross into the US unless someone on this side would promise to get the family here and help them out once they arrived.

I had time. I had space. I had resources. I emailed back within minutes. Andy and I would be happy to help, I said.

This last Tuesday the mom, whom I will call SJ, and her three children arrived on a red eye from San Isidro after spending several hours at a McDonalds where ICE had dropped her and children. Gratefully, through a network of concerned individuals, we were able to secure overnight respite in the house of a well-placed angel willing to help a family in need.

At 7am Tuesday morning, I watched SJ walk through the airport, carrying a one-year-old baby and an extra-large duffel bag—did I mention yet that SJ made this journey without a stroller? That means she was lugging a one-year-old from Tijuana to San Isidro to Maryland.

So perhaps it goes without saying, but SJ is an amazing woman; her children are, too. Her oldest is a brilliant artist and has handily beat my daughter in chess many times. Both she and SD have made ample fun of my Spanish skills. The one-year-old is a champion sleeper and the eight-year-old boy and my son hit it off immediately, speaking a boy-language of shoves and wrestling moves and video games.

When SJ and her children left their home behind, they also left behind two bunnies—both named “bunny”—a chow puppy named Chowbella, and a big yard to play in. They now live in a two-bedroom apartment with a total of 10 people. The 10 people are spreading what money and food they have between them, but ten mouths are a lot to feed.

Andy and I are continuing our sponsorship of this wonderful family and are learning as we go how to best do that. Tomorrow I take SJ to see an immigration attorney and Wednesday I will drive her to enroll her kids in school. Thursday Andy will take them to Baltimore for their Immigration check in. Beyond that, we’ll play things day-to-day.

On this day, my sponsorship activity is this testimony. Both so you can feel the joy of a successful story—against every odd they made it to the United States—and also so I can ask you to consider what you might be able to do to help this family get on and stay on their feet.

Their main needs right now are adequate housing and assistance with daily expenses such as groceries and toiletries. If assisting this family is something you feel called to do with the time, space, and resources you have, please let me know.

Most importantly, please remember this family in your prayers, and ask for God’s providential care over them as they begin their new life in the United States. Remember too, that when we slow down and listen, God will speak.

Since I wrote these words several months ago, much has changed. The two school-aged children are thriving, making friends, learning English, and becoming accustomed to a different way of life. The baby is confident, smart, and obsessed with our puppy. Most importantly, SJ and her children have found an apartment to call home. Each month is a struggle to make ends meet; SJ’s income does not cover essential expenses and we are often scrambling to find a way to ensure each person’s basic human needs are met. To that end, we have established a Go Fund Me page to help this family with their day-to-day expenses. Any amount helps, and I ask you to consider whether a donation to this family is right for you.

 

 

 

Every Child Matters. Every Child.

According to an audit done by the Office of Inspector General (OIG), in the summer of 2017 there was a significant increase in children who were separated from their families at the US/Mexico border. The Trump administration did not officially announce its family-separating zero tolerance policy until June of 2018.

The children detained after the policy’s official implementation have mostly been released to their families, and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) maintains that the children detained prior to implementation have been similarly reunited.

So. No harm no foul?

I don’t think so.

There are a number of frightening things at play in this latest bit of breaking news, one of which is that while DHS and other government agencies can say these children have been released to their families or “sponsors,” the truth is, we simply don’t know. It appears that the government agencies responsible for these children can’t really know either, as the number of pre-policy detainees has been put in the vague range of “thousands” of children, and no adequate records of these children exist.

There are many (MANY!) jaw-dropping pieces of news floating around right now, but I implore you not to ignore this one. Even if the relevant agencies knew without doubt the exact number of children and had proof positive of reunification, the question remains: how did we, the American people, not know about this?

(DHS spokesperson Katie Waldman maintains that the practice of detention has been going on for decades, and so at this point it should be well known and old hat. What Waldman is referencing, however, is detention of unaccompanied minors, which is not what is at play here. I’ve worked with a few of those minors in the past and feel generally well informed about what goes on in those equally sad cases.)

There is no need to wax on about why this story should break your heart, make you so angry you could spit, or send you to the streets in protest. I assume you already feel all of those things and more.

But what feels even worse is what this all of this implies for the collective soul of our nation.

As someone who prays daily that we might all be able to fully realize one another’s humanity, it is this type of news that renders me breathless and overwhelmed. I cannot think of many clearer cases than this of failing so completely to see the face of God in others. When a parent of five knowingly and intentionally separates a child and parent, I can think of no other reason for it. Because if the humanity of “others” was realized, that person would know there is no difference in how “their” children versus “our” children feel when taken from their parents. No different heartbreak for a mother or father when his or her child has been taken to God-knows-where and is being cared for by God-knows-who. Have no doubt about it, memories of this moment in time will be reflected by history books, and we will not like what our grandchildren will read of it.

And then there’s the helplessness to stop it.

Because yes, while we, the American people, put so much pressure on the President that he signed an executive order meant to end the practice of separation, and the courts compelled reunification of the families, we didn’t even know about the thousands previously detained.

As a mere citizen, there are a large number of things I don’t know about what goes on in the world. I’m well aware of that, and I know that in most instances there is little I can do about it. So, I push those things aside and focus on what I can do now, and how I can learn to do more in the future.

But this. I didn’t know about this?

As a long-time child advocate, as someone whose primary concern in life is the care of children, this frustrates, saddens, and angers me beyond belief. It is something I feel in my gut. In the tips of my toes and in the pounding of my temple. It is one of those things that makes life unbearable, and yet makes me realize that with the one life I have, I better live it well and for not just myself, but for the well-being of others.

News stations don’t seem to be focusing much on this story, although every reporter I’ve listened to says the news is “huge.” Instead, the focus today is on the letter-writing pissing match between Speaker Pelosi and Mr. Trump. Today’s other, more important news is a much-needed reminder to focus on the things that truly matter. Not trips to Brussels, but children.