Parenting Through Brokenness and Insanity

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We attended the open house for the twins’ school next year. They will be in kindergarten. How this is possible, I have no idea, but we’re here. I’m trying to enter into this season with presence and honesty, even though I kind of feel scared shitless.

Because I feel like they’re slipping away from me already.

I know – I’m being a little dramatic. They’re not even five. But there are days when I feel like I have zero influence on their lives. Because either I’m repeating myself a dozen times before they respond or listen or they are doing the exact opposite of what I ask them. 

One morning last week when I dropped them off for preschool, I made a rookie mistake. Heaven forbid, I open the doors or allow anyone else to open the doors, but as we walked in with another family, I saw their littlest reach for the door bumping into Desmond as he grabbed the door handle. So I told Desmond to let Colin open it for us.

Hell hath no fury than an almost-five year old who is deterred from this task.

I watched him have his meltdown and waited as he stomped his feet and screamed through his tears, “I. Hate. School!!!” I said to him, gently, “You don’t hate school. You’re frustrated with Mommy for asking you to let Colin open the door.” He responded with more shrieking, stomping and pounding the air. Finally, I was able to convince him to help me distribute the Valentine’s Day cards to all his friends’ cubbies. We were doing so great, and he was starting to forget the door.

Along comes Ozzie, our youngest.

These two together are a constant train wreck on the verge of happening. Ozzie starts shoving and goading Desmond, which makes him cry even more, of course, and it’s totally derailing whatever progress we’re making with the cards. Finally, Oz punches him, and then I yell at Oz and shove him aside. He falls to the ground and cries like I’ve committed the ultimate betrayal. Et tu, Mommy? 

I’m done. At this point, I leave the rest of the cards on top of the cubbies, throw the lunch boxes in the fridge, and stomp out. Desmond tries to follow me and I say very firmly, and in a not-so-Happy-Mommy voice – “GO TO YOUR CLASS.”

He cries, and turns around.

I get in my car, drive off, and cry at the stoplight.

I know, I’m being a little dramatic. But, they’re about to go off to school-school. I feel like I’ll blink and the next twelve years will be over, and all they will remember is how I yelled at them and left them at school today with my voice in their ears void of any loving support. I know, I know – we all have our days. I know we all have our exhaustion. I know we all have moments where we just can’t hold it together even for the sake of our kids.

One of the worst things about being a parent, for me, is the self-discovery, the being face to face with one's secret insanity and brokenness and rage. ― Anne Lamott, Operating Instructions: A Journal of My Son's First YearClick To Tweet

My mother was never this way in public. She was the prototypical Tiger Mother – hardcore piano lessons, school was the be-all-end-all, and Lord, Lord the emotional manipulation, the screeching and the wooden spoons. But, she was somehow able to keep it together when we were outside of the house. She never raised her voice to us, she never shoved us, and we were never just dropped off in anger or frustration.

Sometimes this patient demeanor would translate into a muteness and reserve. When she didn’t speak up or if she was reticent to participate in conversations with the other parents, I would feel annoyed. Why is she just standing there staring? I would ask myself as I observed her with the other kids’ mothers.

I wonder, though, if being an immigrant had anything to do with her voice when we were out on the playground or at school together. She has always struggled with the language, but it was more than that – she wasn’t comfortable or familiar with the culture around her. Perhaps she felt the depth of her foreignness when the mothers around her chattered about pie recipes or the latest visits with the in-laws. I began to see the origins of that smile she would automatically paste on her face whenever we were out together. A smile to express listening, but one to also cover up the straining-to-understand, and I could almost feel her heart and spirit were somewhere else, on a different shore.

“Do you know what a foreign accent is? It's a sign of bravery.  Those are people who crossed an ocean to come to this country.” ― Amy Chua, Battle Hymn of the Tiger MotherClick To Tweet

When I look at her now as I stand on this side of motherhood I realize how brave and strong she was with us. How some of that not-so-secret insanity and brokenness and exhaustion we saw glimpses of in the home – what a burden that was to carry for our sake. How she must have carried it alone in so many ways – holding it in private and out there. How grateful I am for the community of mothers and teachers and schools and childcare workers and babysitters and my spouse around me who get it and help me to keep parenting through it all.

I doubt the kids will remember the moments I lose it with them – the screaming, the frustration, and the stomping away, but I will remember, I think. But, I’ll remember the grace, too. I’ll remember the ways my mother kept on, and I’ll remember the ways the kids keep on, I’ll remember how when I picked them up from school, they came to me with squeals and laughter, squeezing my neck, they ran to me as though I’d been away for days and that morning nothing but a wisp of a memory.

#ThrowbackThursday: Accept No Substitutes

#ThrowbackThursday: Accept No Substitutes

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Reblogged from 2012.

I didn’t make it to church this morning. I had every good intention last night, and planned out the morning as I lay in bed so I could squeeze in a shower and smell nice, the babies would eat breakfast and take a nap beforehand.

I know, I know, the road to hell…anyways. The babies went down for their nap, and so did I.

But I continue to mull over what Christine had sent me a while ago – a blog post called “The Desert Mothers Didn’t Change Diapers. But Maybe They Should Have,” written by Penny Carothers, a guest writer on Don Miller’s blog Don Miller Is. She articulates exactly what I have been feeling for a while in terms of thinking that my spirituality, my faith life, my devotional life, my connection to God needed to be a certain way. But, she challenges that obligation, and offers the possibility of “the sanctification of the ordinary” in these words:

[It] has got me thinking: what if there really is a different way? What if God intended the hug of a child to mirror the numinous moment others achieve through meditation? What if attending to the needs and the play of children – really attending, not reading the news on my phone or folding laundry while I listen with half an ear – was a window into the spiritual? What if all I really needed to do was simply be present? After all, God calls himself a lover and a parent, and perhaps there is something to learn in embracing my life rather than trying to escape it so I can have real communion with God.

It’s still a little shocking, but perhaps the most spiritual thing I can do may be to embrace my life as a mother. Not a spiritual, metaphorical mother, but a snot-wiping, baby-chasing, diaper bag-toting mother. Because sometimes it’s not the bible stories or the lectio divina, but the Help! and thank you that a relationship is built on.

So, I put on some classical music for a little bit. The babies and I listened to their Pap’s sermon from last Sunday on my Iphone. We played with rattles and cars. I sang “Spirit of the Living God,”to them. We played with kitchen paraphernalia. I threw them up in the air a few times just to hear them squeal and laugh. I played some more hymns and worship-y songs on the piano. We ate lunch.

It wasn’t church, and I really believe there is no substitute for the communion of saints each Sunday, but I was still blessed by it. I believe I can still worship through attending to these moments, and of course, there’s always next Sunday.

When to Just Go with It or a Casual (First) Communion

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We were singing the second verse of the hymn in preparation for communion. My mind wandered as I thought about the rest of the day – laundry, dinner, camping later in the week when I felt something push against my leg. I glanced down. It was Desmond – an expectant grin, one full of mischief and pure joy like he’s saying, “Surprise!” It’s his usual smile. I looked up and watched the childcare volunteers come in with Anna and Ozzie. It dawned on me that, oh, right, the childcare providers usually come up during communion…which means, the kids come up, too. 

Oh. The kids are going to be here during this time. For communion. Wait a minute. They’ve never done communion. We’ve never talked about it with them. Wait a minute. What do I do???

As the pastor went through the great prayer of thanksgiving and the words of institution I panicked about them being there. They were fidgety, as would be expected, I mean, when are they NOT fidgeting or squirming or flailing or swinging their legs or in general, quiet? Silence has become a stranger to our home since the arrival of the babies. I shuushed and covered Desmond’s mouth with my hand, which of course, made him louder, because apparently that signals “speak up,” rather than “be quiet,” to him. I squeezed him closer to me as he twisted in my lap. Oz sat on the volunteer’s lap playing with two plastic chickens. Two plastic chickens locked in some epic battle over God-knows-what but the conflict was urgent and again, loud. Anna crouched next to me periodically beaming that gorgeous and irresistible smile at me. And incessantly whispering, “Mom, I have a question for you.” But there were hardly ever any questions. Only statements. Observations. Or gibberish.

“For grace to be grace, it must give us things we didn’t know we needed and take us places where we didn’t know we didn’t want to go. As we stumble through the crazily altered landscape of our lives, we find that God is enjoying our attention as never before. ” -Kathleen Norris

All of a sudden the ushers were there next to us with the plate. And the hesitation melted away as I decided, “oh the hell with it,” just go with it, I nodded, as they looked at me with questioning eyes, “Do we serve the children?” I whispered firmly, “Desmond, Anna, Ozzie, take one piece of bread. This is Christ’s body broken for you.” Desmond declares, “I’m hunky,” (hungry), and Anna says, “I want a snack.” They immediately pop it into their mouths before I can say, “Wait, let’s eat it together with everyone.” Desmond chomps dramatically. Anna smiles even bigger.

I try to say something serious about communion but…I’m at a loss for words. I thought I should at least get them to say the word communion. “Anna, can you say the word ‘communion’? That’s what we are doing right now. Communion. Say ‘communion,'” and all I get in response is: “Mooooo-oooom I want another one.” I see Oz, and the volunteer puts the little square into his mouth, like I would at home if I was trying to get him to eat something but had to do it without disturbing his focus. Because there was no way Oz was going to put down those chickens. As I suspected he didn’t pause even for a moment in his play as he chewed on that piece of bread.

Did I just fail as a parent – a parent who should know how to teach their children about the Christian faith? As someone who wants their children to have meaningful experiences of God and church? Did I fail as a pastor? When I was serving as a minister to youth and children we had workshops for the sacraments. We talked about baptism and communion, and we talked about worship, and all the symbols on the chancel, you know, to explain why we do what we do on Sunday mornings. But I didn’t even have a chance to think about this possibility with the kids before this day. I mean, Andy wasn’t even here. For their first communion.

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“I am the living water…” – Jesus in the Gospel of John

As I was mulling over these thoughts the servers were coming back around this time with the trays of grape juice. I told the children very loudly in my best mom-voice this time to each take one, hold the cup, and not drink it until I said so, mixed in with a speedy, “This is Christ’s blood poured out for you.” We sat there waiting for what felt like an eternity (Desmond spilled half of it on me), and then finally, finally, the pastor said those blessed words, “The blood of Christ,” and we all tipped our little cups into our mouths. Anna chugged loudly. Desmond sipped daintily. I watched Oz drink from his cup and then smack his lips a few times.

I broke inside. How many times do I tell parents, adults, teachers that it’s okay if they don’t totally “get” it – how many of us grownups can articulate with total certainty that we understand the depth and mystery of God’s love for us in this moment? And here I was watching and feeling it all for the first time as a miserably hopeless failure of a parent in need of God’s grace as much as these babies in front of me. They weren’t dressed up in fancy new clothes and I didn’t do any Pinterest-worthy activities to prepare them for this moment, and they certainly had little idea what made this meal sacred and special. It was no different from them sitting in their carseats and me throwing goldfish crackers at them in the car from the driver’s seat because I forgot their snack traps again.

And, it was really, truly okay. I was so happy for a moment that I clutched Desmond a little too hard and he squealed like one of their bath toys being stepped on. Everyone’s heads swiveled towards me as I looked toward the ceiling pretending not to notice. I know I was being judged and questioned, and now more eyes looked my way, but who cares? I watched the way they ate and drank, and I loved that they had no idea what we were doing right then and there, why or what it was called anyway. It was a gift. They were there. And they ate. And…that fed me. It filled me. It led me to Jesus’ table in a new way. Because I imagined what it would have been like for children to have been at that last supper with Jesus. I’m sure they would have been loud and disruptive, but then periodically solemn and watching everything like Desmond and Anna. Maybe some of them would have been coloring or playing quietly with toys and would be handfed by caretakers, too, like Oz. I thought that Jesus would have been more than okay with children being at that meal. In fact, in so many ways it would make sense that it wouldn’t have just been the male disciples, but whole families, men, women, and even children all gathered together, for Passover, for communion.

“I wonder if children don’t begin to reject both poetry and religion for similar reasons, because the way both are taught takes the life out of them.” – Kathleen Norris

I remembered then how we take ourselves out of the story sometimes. And, many times those in power take over the narrative, and they take the least of these out of the story, too. Then everyone misses out, misses something, we all lose out, we then make it rote and routine, mindless, because it’s bland and homogeneous, we aren’t on the edge of our seats, we’re sitting back, eyes glazed over, but in these odd and ordinary moments – these moments when we have to pay attention in another way, when we have to make a decision about who should be there, then we listen to the words, and taste the dry crumbs from a carefully slice loaf of bread, remembering that these moments together, even in the casual, even in the unplanned, unexpected, and uncertain, these are moments of resistance. Our words, our prayers, our songs, our sipping lightly from plastic cups that will later be tossed in the recycling bin – in fresh ways, in uncomfortable ways, these are acts of resistance, our protest against the darkness, against hopelessness, against the normative, against all who would say, “No. You shouldn’t eat at the table because you don’t understand it, you don’t deserve it, you don’t look or sound like us.”

As Nadia says, “Jesus still calls the tax collectors and prostitutes and housewives and social workers and Pharisees into the very heart of God. So come and join me at his table, at this holy of holies, not because you have made it past the velvet ropes, but because the ground at the foot of the cross is level and there is room for all of us.” There’s so much that can gather us around God’s table, but these days, what feels provocative and compelling, what feels like living and life is the struggle – it’s the struggle that binds us together, the struggle and angst, the drama and grief, and the clinging to utopia, that makes me keep going back to that table. Even when I don’t feel like it. When I don’t feel it. And even as we sit at the table, squiriming, flailing, playing with our damn plastic chickens, what matters is that we are there, and we receive, and that’s all we need to do in the end, is just receive and eat – who cares if we know what it’s called – just open our mouths, and chomp and chug like it’s the best snack in the world.

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Activism and the Exhaustion of “Why Bother?”

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Emett Till. Vincent Chin. Trayvon Martin. Renisha McBride. Jordan Davis.

These names keep going through my mind after the Dunn Trial verdict. Or should I say lack thereof…All I can think about is babies. They’re babies, for God’s sake. So something more deeply sinister and poisonous is operating in the world. Why would anyone even consider the possibility that this man should not be found guilty for 1st degree murder??? I’m wracking my brain – eff the Stand Your Ground law – for how the law is supposed to be for the people but it only works for some of the people. The rest…well, the best thing to do is probably to stop playing our music loud, stop wearing hoodies and going to convenience stores for candy, stop going to bars and fast food restaurants, stop making any eye contact with those in privilege and power.

Or maybe we should stand our ground.

.:.

I’m not sure what I would have done without Twitter and blogs and internet communities these last three years. Drowning in this harsh and beautiful endeavor called parenthood I often felt like my only lifeline to any semblance of life-outside and my former-life was the World Wide Web. The Young Clergy Women Project. 8asians. Deeper Story. Next GenerAsian Church. And so much more. Without these communities – and despite my inconsistent level of participation and commitment – I think I really would have lost myself. Lost passion, lost purpose, lost calling.

At the same time, these precious gifts we call “the twins” and “baby #3” have fueled a distinct kind of passion and urgency in that I feel like there’s a much more compelling reason for anything I do today. Blogging? For them. Connecting with others on Twitter? For them. Joining with others in dialogue about church and ministry? For them. College ministry, work on the boards, side projects, writing books? All. For. Them.

I know it sounds weird. Like a sad and weak justification for the things that I do that especially take me away from the children. Oh, that mom-guilt is really piercing, and just so particularly agonizing to every cell in my body. Never knew that kind of pain and heartache could exist even when there is really nothing wrong in our lives. But still, I hold onto a kind of pseudo-eschatological view of everything – like it’s on us to bring God’s kingdom of peace and justice to this world. And so that means speaking up about the horrible violence and oppression, working in whatever way possible to bring about meaningful community, and doing what I can to help shape a future that is hospitable and live-able for them.

I’d been laying a little low lately. Consumed by terrible sleep schedules even when all the children sleep all night (truly, a rarity). All manner of random thoughts laying waste to what’s left of my brain cells in the middle of the night. Trying to run the kids hard during the day so they will crash at a decent hour. I was treading water in some ways. But then #trayvonmartin and #renishamcbride and #newtown nd #jordandavis aand I keep thinking I need do something. Then #notyourasiansidekick kicked it in high gear for me again. The Twitter campaign and movement to reinvigorate the voices of Asian America started by Suey Park gave language to some of the angst and frustration I’ve been feeling towards these recent tragedies with children and guns in the US.

What can we do? I love what she says here:

In the coming months, I’m really hoping to start shifting our collective consciousness. That means disseminating information that I have been able to get a hold of, sharing the work of ethnic studies scholars above before me, like Asian-American feminists that have been doing this work for quite a while, and finding a way for our generation to build off the generation before us. We can use our unique skills, like our social media power, to enact real tangible change.

That feels productive. Powerful. Even if I feel closed in by the walls I can do something – thanks to social media. I can be a part of a movement. I can lend my voice.

I’m tired. But, aren’t we all??? So why bother? It’s for them. So we can’t stop. We can’t stay here. We won’t stand our ground. We’re going to press on…to that heavenly prize in which God in Jesus Christ is calling us. What about the kingdom of God as a movement? Not just social justice. Not just church. Not just theology or doctrine. But, a movement towards and a movement to bring about a different reality, one where everyone has the right to live and breathe and sing and dance and play their damn music as loud as they want anywhere they want in this world.

Because it’s for them.

Parenting and the Necessity for Negotiations

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I’m held hostage. Daily. By 3 people. Who aren’t even 40 inches. Maybe. And a dog, but she might be in my situation, too.

It is a daily, ongoing struggle. To get them to do anything from putting on socks to sitting and eating at the table to – God help us – peeing and pooping on the potty. Long ago, I vowed to not succumb to bribes of stickers and candy. I mean, those things pretty much guarantee will do anything, but I didn’t want to resort to bribing the kids. I was above it. I figured that was for the parents who weren’t patient enough, or resilient enough, for those that were too lazy. But, like almost everything else I planned to do as a parent those promises were flushed down the toilet – figuratively and literally.

Because without those bribes we wouldn’t make it out the house very much.

Another mom friend and I were talking about it a little this week – all the things we do now to bribe our kids. We realized that all bribes have a bit of a shelf-life. They start out being surprisingly effective, probably because of the novelty factor. And sugar factor. So, our twins were rock stars when we were trying to potty train them a month ago. They were going on their own, they were going without even any asking from us, they were doing everything beautifully. All for 1 gummy bear. Now? They wake up in the mornings and the first thing out of their mouths is, “I want 10 gummie bears!!!!!!” Somehow it switched from being effective to being a source of entitlement. How? Why? I suspect it has to do with our arbitrary use of the gummy bears. We started to use them to get them in the car, put on their magic coats, get in the bath, and to stop crying. Sometimes we’d randomly give them a gummy bear just for being cute. They started to randomly expect it at different times of the day. Demand it. Until we found a new bribe.

Then the cycle began again.

I didn’t want to do the bribery thing because I thought bribes were basically like the treats we used for dog training. In the beginning whenever I’d walk Ellis I’d have treats in my pocket for her to make her sit or heel or whatever. And she responded perfectly. Now she does it without any treats. But doing it with the kids feels…slightly demeaning. I mean, they do enjoy playing in her crate but it still probably doesn’t warrant treating them like dogs.

And ultimately, I want them to do these things without bribes, obviously. And I fear that entitlement. I want them to learn how to be thankful.

“What separates privilege from entitlement is gratitude.” -Brene Brown

But. Jeez. The day to day – I don’t know. Andy and I often joke there should have been business course requirements during seminary for ministry and raising a family, and I often feel like I should have done some kind of crisis-hostage training for these moments of negotiation. Or maybe peacekeeping courses? Because right now, more often than not, it’s seriously about survival.

I need you to stop flopping around so I can put some socks and shoes on you so you don’t get frostbite and your toes amputated because I gave up…so here are some gummy bears.

For the love of God, please stop staring off into space and get into your seats so that we can get you to school and not waste all the tuition money this year…so here are some more gummy bears.

I beg and plead with you to stop screaming at me or each other…so here are some more gummy bears.

I know it’s an easy way out. Maybe even akin to more physical types of discipline. It’s a short cut. But, those gummy bears and Swedish fish help us to maintain that fragile peace in our house.

At the same time I know – and hope with all my heart – that this is a temporary season and that as they evolve we will evolve, too. It’s not just us – me and Andy – doing this life thing, but all of us trying to figure it out together. We love those kids more than anything else in the world, no doubt about it. But, God is surely teaching us something about humility – I have to catch myself less and less when it comes to judging others’ parenting – and definitely, faithfulness and grace even in these little “battles” each day. Because every time I succumb to something that feels less than what I want to give to them I die a little on the inside. But, I cling to the hope that God’s presence fills in the gaps and hems them in with more love and peace than I will ever give them. That grace is life-saving for me, too.

Thankfully there’s no negotiating God’s grace.

“In spite of the six thousand manuals on child raising in the bookstores, child raising is still a dark continent and no one really knows anything. You just need a lot of love and luck – and, of course, courage.”
― Bill Cosby, Fatherhood