Before anyone runs screaming from the room, this is not a political post. To the extent possible, I try to keep politics out of this blog. It is, however, a long post, and I ask you to read to the end. There’s a point to it.
The past two weeks have had a slightly higher insanity quotient because of family milestones, family illnesses, and topics in the news that are critically important to my family. Nonno and Deedaw’s anniversary, for all its joyousness and wonderful memories, was exhausting; the van needed some costly repairs, there have been health problems in our extended family, we have had a vomit virus running roughshod over our tiny people, and I have had a battle royale with our insurance company about my husband’s blood pressure medication. On top of that, we are observant Catholics, which likely gives a good clue as to what issue has absorbed my interest.
Because of the unusual number of distractions I’ve allowed into my consciousness lately, I’ve been relying on my laptop more than usual for contact with “the outside world.” Too many times this week in particular, I’ve called over my shoulder, “just a minute, let me finish reading this, ” or “just a minute, I’m writing an email, ” or “hey, I can’t hear myself think.” While I’m fully aware that I NEED some grown-up time during the course of any given day, I have a weakness for losing myself in the Internet and politics for too many hours, which leads to the kids’ needs for my attention not being met. I put myself on a Web timeout for most of today, once I realized that I had fallen into that trap again.
This morning brought a hearty helping of “I-want-itis” among the members of our tribe, particularly when I had to inform them that because we love our friends, we try not to share our barfing bugs with them, and thus we would not be attending playgroup this morning. As a sop, and also because it was on my to-do list for this week, I told them that after we dropped off the storage bin keys to another of the mommies, we could wander over to the bookstore to pick up some new coloring and activity books to get ready for Lent. That, and the promise of a Hello Kitty movie in the van during our travels, tamed the whininess for a little while.
Off we went, and procured several truly nifty faith formation resources for the tiny people. We stopped to see my husband and work (and drop off beverages for him to keep there) on the way home, and even paid a visit to Big Yellow M for some unhealthy eats; since we’ve gone 24 hours without puke, it seemed a worthy risk to take for kids who have been stuck in the house for four days. Once we arrived safely home, chicken nuggets and fries were devoured, then Mr. Man and Baby Guy sacked out for their afternoon naps.
Getting the boys to nap is a chancy proposition sometimes. Baby Guy will more or less sleep where and when he drops, but Mr. Man, until he’s fully asleep, rouses to almost any noise that sounds like someone might be playing. Consequently, it’s always a bit of an exercise for me to find ways to keep Bugaboo and Beanie quiet until I stop hearing the sound of a thumb being slurped over the baby monitor. I’ve been a little over-reliant on the noontime programming on The Hub for the last couple of weeks; we’re normally very strict about TV time, as we would rather that the kids interact with actual human beings than with a screen. Lately I’ve been an awful role model for them on that score. In the interest of trying to salvage at least a weekly screen time limit, I told Bugaboo and Beanie that they were welcome to play quietly with their toys, but they would need to avoid turning on music features and keep their voices to a whisper until the boys fell asleep.
They were actually pretty good about it for half an hour (which, for a three year old and a four year old, is actually decent) before they got restless and the volume started to rise to a level that would actually wake the little guys. Since storytime is usually a pretty big deal around here, and it’s been sadly neglected lately, I invited each of the girls to pick out some favorite stories so we could have some “big girl” time together.
I was rather unprepared for Bugaboo’s response. She angrily replied, “I don’t want to read stories. I want my TV time. You need to let me watch TV.” Beanie, meanwhile, scooted off to the girls’ room to retrieve some of the books she loves best. Bugaboo and I had a bit of a discussion, which ended with me reminding her that I had said there would be no TV today, and that she could either choose to have stories she likes read, or she could choose to not have stories she likes. She sulked through the first story, then sped off to the bookshelf to retrieve “The Pixie Hollow Games.” We passed a pleasant 45 minutes with the girls taking turns bringing books for me to read before the two of them decided they would rather do a craft.
Since Valentine’s day is approaching, and since I always like to mix a little thinking in with our art, I set the girls to tracing hearts on red construction paper and cutting them out, while I cut out a bunch of larger hearts in different colors. When I had finished, while they were still working, I started asking them about the different ways we show love for each other. They started out with the obvious hugs and kisses, and smiles and baby babbles, then progressed to sharing toys. Lots of toys. If I had let them continue in that vein, I believe they would have named every toy in the house, which would have taken quite some time. As I wasn’t having any luck eliciting responses other than the names of different toys, I decided to call it a day for the craft, since the girls had finished cutting out their hearts and were looking for other things to do.
Throughout our little project with the hearts, I had kept up a constant stream of reminders that we needed to keep our voices low so that Mr. Man and Baby Guy could get the length of nap they needed. Naturally, as soon as they clambered down from their chairs, they started shrieking. Loudly. Shrilly. Staccato. Then they went into their room and, so help me, turned on at least fifteen “noise toys,” setting the volume to high. Slowly, I walked to their room and told them they needed to turn the volume down on both the toys and their voices. Bugaboo responded, “But we love our toys!”
I am not a saint. Ninety minutes of futilely reminding them to keep the noise down, on top of everything else that’s been going on, and instead of taking the deep breath I needed to take, I snapped and started yelling (terribly effective method of showing kids how to be quiet, right?). A great deal of my hollering was less-than-gentle instruction on good ways to show love for each other — like listening to what Mommy asks and being considerate of younger siblings. Some of it was an equally ungentle litany of the things their parents do out of love for them that toys can never do.
Then I softly said to my daughters, my blessings from the Lord, “I love you both very much. Please pick up the toys that are on the floor and put them away so I can find a path to the changing table if I need one,” and left, silently berating myself for loosing a diatribe on a pair of preschoolers. They’re kids. Kids make noise. Kids also need to learn when NOT to make noise, but reading them the riot act for wanting to play with their stuff, for not understanding the very adult concept of the difference between people and things that I talked about in yesterday’s post — that’s not a loving way to teach those lessons.
A few minutes later, a tearful Bugaboo flung herself into my lap and sobbed, “Mommy, I’m sorry. You’re much better than toys.”
Love means seeing the needs of others and responding to them. There are so very many needs in the world, so many people who need help and to whom I want to give help, that I sometimes forget there are some very important people with some very critical needs right here in my home. To a small child, Mommy’s attention is a critical need — hugs, stories, singing silly songs, dancing for the sheer joy of it, being allowed to help cook dinner, or just having me watch while they’re making up stories with their toys.
Every human life matters. Every human life is precious, and worth protecting, cherishing, and loving from conception to natural death. That includes the four very young ones who have been entrusted to our care. I can write spirited, well-researched, and insightful defenses of the value of human lives of all sorts until my fingers fall off, but if I neglect my own children while doing so, all my effort is wasted, because I have failed in my first duty, which is to teach them how precious the gift of their lives is.
Today’s prayer: Lord, I have failed to heed my own instruction and Yours again. Please keep me mindful that You have placed great trust in me with these four little blessings, and that to protect other lives through Your love, I must first ensure that I am giving that love to Your blessings in full measure. Defending the value of life to the outside world is a calling from You, but help me first ensure that Your blessings understand how much their lives are valued. At the same time, Lord, please keep me from the trap of giving in just to make the whining and shouting stop. I need the strength to love fiercely enough to stand my ground and bring them up in Your ways.
Lord, thank You for the exuberance of Your blessings. Help me teach them to express their joy in ways appropriate to their surroundings without squashing that same joy.