Tuesday, January 28, 2014

The Beauty in Chaos

While busily preparing dinner few months ago, I commented to a friend on the phone that I was, "just worn out." It had been a long day that began too early and I was trudging grudgingly through what remained to be done before bed time. A few minutes later, I noticed Chloe, my 8 year old, in a creative frenzy with paper, markers, glitter. . . (she gets that from her artist father, my creative frenzy looks like dessert). I was commanded not to look. She next requested help from a sibling to drag a card table upstairs. A few minutes later she began squirreling away with dishes from my kitchen. I had a pretty good idea of where this was going; my 8 year old is an incurable romantic. (The only one in our house, I might add.) I, not being quite as romantic in my nature, was thinking of the work involved in cleaning up her scheme, but I digress.

By the time my husband got home I had dinner ready (can you hear the heavenly angels singing? They do that when I can manage to have dinner ready at dinner time. They don't sing much.) I called everyone to dinner and Chloe, coming out of her skin with giddiness and fancied up in a dress by this point, said, "I have a surprise for you and Dad!" Really? A surprise? What could it be?? She paraded us upstairs to my room. (My husband sleeps there too when he's good). A note greeted us at our door:

For those of you who don't read 8 year old, it says: Welcome to Chloe's amazing restaurant. Please take the table for 2 and please enjoy and become romantic." (Can I just become asleep instead?) Inside she had the card table set with dinner dishes for two, a candle, and (get this) pictures of my husband and I from when we were teens with little notes next to them that said, "remember how beautiful she is?/ remember how handsome he is?" The napkins had been hand decorated with markers for the occasion. She was delighted and we were laughing and hugging her. She said, "I heard Mom say she was worn out to her friend and I wanted to make her feel better." But HERE is the irony: my room was an absolute disaster! It was so messy. It usually is (I make it a point to clean it for Christmas). It was the last place I would have picked for a romantic setting. The chaos and the guilt about the chaos! My daughter didn't even notice it. She began bustling up and downstairs to serve us our dinner. My four year old was so delighted with the set up, he begged to eat upstairs (in the chaos) with us, and Chloe granted him permission. So we ate a romantic dinner, my husband, my four year old and I.

In our frenzied world, there is a deep seated fear of not enough. I am not enough. My house is not nice enough, I am not successful enough, smart enough, talented enough. MY ROOM IS NOT CLEAN ENOUGH! Lynne Twist hit the nail on the head when she wrote, "Our first waking thought of the day is ' I didn't get enough sleep.' the next one is 'I don't have enough time.' Whether true or not, that thought of not enough occurs to us automatically before we even think to question or examine it." Enough for what? To be happy? To have love and meaningful relationships?

With an impromptu candlelit dinner in my messy room, my eight year old taught me better. Life is messy, hard, chaotic. My house is rarely as tidy as it should be, or tidy at all. I forget things on my calendar. Sometimes I yell too much. Despite the yelling, my kids often appear not to hear me! But sometimes, my daughter sets up a romantic dinner for me to enjoy with my husband and four year old in the middle of the chaos. I am reminded, I suddenly know, I am enough and it is enough! This hard, messy, unrelenting life is BEAUTIFUL. And worth living. The lesson is simple: no prerequisites to happiness. I can have it here, I can have it now. In this messy room with the people I love.

Keeping it real, although its embarrassing. You can only see half of it, thank goodness.

I do remember! He is handsome! But his wife looks tired.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Parents We Have a New Job Description

When you were a kid, how much screen time were you allowed?  I have no recollection of clear rules about how much TV we could watch (TV being the only screen we owned). This is possibly because I remember almost no clear rules from my childhood (the two rules I remember: work hard and be honest). More likely there weren't strict rules for TV time, because there was no need. After all, there were only 5 channels and cartoons were only on some of the time. Either way, parenting clearly includes a new set of tasks that it didn't for the last generation. We have to limit screen time, lest our kids brains turn to mush (or so the fear mongering media warns). We have to monitor text messages and Facebook and Instagram and internet use. We have to teach our children how to interact with technology. All of this is utterly exhausting!
So, when it comes to technology, I'm taking the principle approach, which is this: teach sound principles and then let them manage themselves when they have demonstrated reasonable (though not perfect) capacity to do so. The other approach is constant and intense supervision coupled with restrictions. I find the latter method to be time consuming and ineffective. Also, it requires unlimited amounts energy and consistency, two things I lack.
Here is the principle I attach to media and technology, a mantra I repeat so often that my kids go catatonic by the third word: every thing that we bring into our lives brings both a burden and a blessing. Before we choose to let something into our lives, we must identify what the burden will be and what the blessing will be. And we must carefully weigh them against each other. If the blessing outweighs the burden, then perhaps it is worth welcoming into our lives. It sounds simple on the face of it, but it is often counter-intuitive. For example, almost no one would look at an ipad and think to themselves, "this will be a burden and a blessing." Most of us thing, "BLESSING, BLESSING, BLESSING!! Please come into my life!" Just like we thought, "Oh yes, a machine that washes clothes! That will be so marvelous and save me so much time." So, a hundred years ago, they spent a few hours a week washing the two or three outfits by hand. Now we spend at least that much time washing 10 times the amount of clothing. Burden or blessing? Clearly, both.
Once we have welcomed some technology or form of social media into our lives, the guiding principle becomes using it in such a way that it's burden is never allowed to overtake its blessing (i.e. so much time on Facebook, we miss meaningful interaction with our kids).
Banning teens access to technology and social media does not seem realistic or prudent to me. Allowing them unlimited access to technology and social media without any guiding principles and on-going discussions about how to manage it in our lives seems equally faulty. A friend recently said to me, "I don't think most teens are able to edit well enough to be able to use social media responsibly. Many adults can't even manage it!" In there is the key to my view. Knowing how to manage technology and social media is not an innate skill, nor one that comes automatically with age. It is learned! I want my kids to learn it from me and with me. I want them to try and when they manage poorly, I want them still at home with me where we have the space to discuss and modify and learn and improve. My hope is this: by the time they get out into the big, broad world on their own, they will have honed and refined skills that will enable them to interact with technology and social media in a meaningful and responsible way. I have the same hope for myself! Let me know what you think.