Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Gifts I Want to Give My Kids

It's that time of year again--you know, the time when we celebrate the humble birth of the Son of God with excess and extravagance. I love Christmas. I love the music, the lights, the sounds, and the decorations. I love the warm feeling I feel inside when I think of the birth of Christ and what that means to me. But I wonder how to help our children feel the true meaning of Christmas when they are surrounded by such a consumer-oriented society. Every year as Christmas comes I wonder how to scale back--how to give our kids less physically and more spiritually--how to give more to others and focus less on what we are getting. I wonder how to draw our family closer to Christ and pull a little farther away from the "What did Santa give you?" culture. And so I've been thinking about the gifts I would like to give my kids this year--not just at Christmas but throughout their lives.
The Gift of Work
Feelings of worth don't come from packages--no matter how big, expensive, or nicely wrapped. But when kids learn to work hard they feel good because they learn that they are capable. They learn to think, solve problems, and accomplish things through sheer grit. And they value what they get because they worked to get it. I want to give my children the gift of hard work so they learn that they are good and they can do great things. They won't know that because I told them that--they'll know because they did the work to find out for themselves.
The Gift of Service
My kids are surrounded by generous and loving family and friends who shower them with nice things. I wish I could peel open their blinders and expose them to the needs of others. When we serve others we feel God's love for them. And we feel good about ourselves because we are able to serve and to give. Cameron and I actively look for ways our family can serve those around us. But service is something we can never expose our kids to enough. Service opens our eyes and our hearts, squelches selfishness, and opens the door to a life following Christ. That's what Christmas should really be about.
The Gift of No
It is common for parents to want to give their kids what they never had. But I fear that in the process too many of us (myself included) deprive their kids of the very experiences that made them strong. Instead of saying yes to so many luxuries I would like to say no more often. I don't want to give my kids all the toys and gadgets they want or all the financial privileges we can afford. I want to say no and teach them that money doesn't buy happiness and less is more. Having more, bigger, and fancier too often detracts from happiness because it distracts people from the things that matter most. Christ wasn't known for his big house or fancy clothes. I don't want our family to be, either.

The Gift of Love
At Christmas we celebrate the love the Savior has for us--demonstrated by his humble birth and life. But too often Christmas celebrations are devoid of Christ and filled with emptiness. I want our Christmas season to be filled with sacred moments, reminders of Jesus' holy life and pure love. I want our children to feel the true beauty of Christmas. It doesn't come from the store. You can't wrap it in a box. But we can be wrapped in his love if we choose Him. Anticipating presents is fun, but Jesus' love lasts forever. This is what I want them to feel and know at Christmas and throughout their lives.

Frankly, planning, preparing for, anticipating, and enjoying Christmas morning as our kids open presents is delightful. I have been counting down the days till Christmas for a while now. I can't wait to give our kids their gifts. But as fun as these things are, I yearn to give my children more.  Hard work, service, and the love of God are gifts that will keep giving and giving as my children grow. These are the things I want to give my children.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Nine Years

Abby and I were driving to the store this week.

Abby: Mom, is the world moving?

Me: Yes, sweetheart, the world is moving.

Abby: How does it move?

Me: Um, that's a Daddy question.

Abby: What do you mean?

Me: I mean Daddy knows more about the world moving than I do.

And then I thought silently to myself, "English majors are content to know that the world is moving and then go on to dissecting symbolism in great works of literature. Engineers are much more concerned with what makes the world move."

Nine years ago today Cameron and I walked out of the temple giddily holding hands, completely elated to be married.
Nine years later I am more grateful than ever that I married my perfect complement.

Where I am weak, he is strong. He answers the questions I can't and does things I can't do. He is a thoughtful, loving husband. He wrestles, tickles, gives piggy back rides, reads to, praises, and prays with our kids. On top of all this, he can answer all the questions the universe can present to young minds. Wow, did I do well or what? Thank goodness I have him forever.

Happy anniversary, darling! I love you!

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Christmas Decorations and the Love of God

For my fourth birthday my parents gave me a nutcracker. I was instantly enchanted. I remember playing with it each Christmas throughout my childhood. I couldn’t wait to pull him out of the boxes of holiday decorations each year. He was my nutcracker, and I loved him.

And then there was that not-so-lovely Christmas after I lost my eye. I was still grieving, adjusting, and feeling uncertain about the future. I found my nutcracker in the box of decorations and happily set him next to me while I kept unwrapping other decorations. A few minutes later I glanced back at my nutcracker and was startled to see this: 
He had lost his eye. Cameron and I now joke that my redheaded, well-meaning guardian angel knocked it out while my back was turned to help me feel less alone. Cameron made a little case and put the dismembered eye in it, and they sit together like this each Christmas. 
It may seen silly, but having a one-eyed nutcracker now reminds me of how much the Lord knows me and my struggles. I've never seen it as any coincidence that my beloved nutcracker somehow lost his eye the same year I lost mine. Now when I see my nutcracker I feel the Lord’s love for me. I know that He knows me, how I feel, and what I need. And it just so happens that during that dark Christmas and in happier Christmases since, having a monocular nutcracker has made me feel joyful and loved. It’s OK that my nutcracker only has one eye. And it’s OK that I only have one eye, too. 

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Powers of Darkness Beware

There's a monster in my basement. Of this my kids are absolutely convinced. For a long time we tried reasoning with them and promising that if they ever actually saw a monster we would take them out for ice cream. That got us nowhere...not even to the ice cream parlor.

So a few months ago I decided to start playing along. I named the basement monster Larry. I told the kids that Larry had pinkie promised me that he wouldn't eat my kids. I wish I could say that this fixed the fear, but it didn't. But it did give us something to laugh about.

Then recently I needed something from the basement. The kids were dispatched to get it. Jake went down wildly waving Cameron's light saber through the air, his sisters following on his heels. Within seconds shouts of, "Be gone, Larry!" were heard.
Grace came back up to report that there had been lots of bad guys but they were all gone now.

Powers of darkness beware. He's armed. He's dangerous. And he shows no mercy.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Last-Minute Fashion

We were late for a field trip and I was rushing to get us out the door. Trying to get small children anywhere on time works best when you have a small army assigned to each child, especially if you want said children to have shoes, socks, combed hair, and clean faces. The only army around here consists of my four cute chaos makers. So we were late.

The kids were scurrying for footwear and everyone was feeling the attendant rise in blood pressure as we wondered what shoes would or wouldn't surface as needed.

Then Grace appeared in the hallway looking, uh, like a 3-year-old who dresses herself.
"Look, Mom! I can wear socks with flip flops!"

Yes. Yes, you can.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

A Boy and His Catapult

As part of his homeschooling lineup this year, Jake is taking an Engineering Foundations class that involves building structures with the Engino Simple Machines kit. My mechanically minded little man is in heaven. Recently his assignment was to build a catapult.  
He then spent the afternoon rocketing toy food into a nearby laundry hamper. (Really, we were both grieving the absence of a bag of marshmallows so we could eat our target practice.) Some pieces went right in. Some were over- or under-shot. Some ricocheted around the room.
Give a boy a weapon, and he will have an entertaining afternoon. Teach a boy to build a weapon and you will be living in a war zone.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

The Gift of Siblings

Last summer I had an interesting conversation with my sister-in-law about family size.  She told me about her best friend from high school--an only child whose world revolved around her. "She had her own bedroom and her own office. When it was time to plan a family vacation, they just went where she wanted." As a teenager my sister-in-law felt a tad envious of her friend's self-centered existence.

I listened and thought. I have known wonderful people who didn't have any siblings. And who wouldn't enjoy a world that revolved around them, especially as a teenager? But I'm not sure this planet needs more people who think they are the center of the universe. For years I have said that one of the nicest things I can do for my kids is give them siblings. A sibling is a childhood playmate and a dear friend for adulthood. Siblings sometimes understand us better than anyone else can.
Large families present other advantages, too. This year we have all had to be sensitive to Emma's extra needs with her glaucoma. It hasn't been easy. But through it all I have hoped and prayed that our children could learn something about compassion and sacrificing to care for another. When you want to raise children who are selfless and look for opportunities to serve others, these sorts of experiences can be an answered prayer.

Then recently I saw this article  that draws a correlation between family size and future marital success. Children who come from families with several children have to learn to deal with multiple personalities and opinions all in the same environment. They gain an understanding of how to roll with the punches--and each additional sibling a child has (up to seven children) increases their future chances for marital success:

“In terms of some social outcomes, kids from large families are more likely to flourish,” said Wilcox, director of the National Marriage Project. “They’re less likely to get divorced. It might be the experience early in life of learning to share so much and live with the exceptional stress of having all those different personalities to deal with.”
Ohio State University research suggests that only children are the least likely to marry and most at risk of divorcing, while people with four to seven siblings have markedly lower rates of divorce.
Maybe people from big families grow up knowing that they’re not going to win every battle. Maybe they understand from birth that they’re not alone in life. Or maybe they learn early on to play well with others.
“All those life experiences may have prepared them better for marriage,” Wilcox said.
Read more here:
Some people don't understand why I would choose to have so many kids. But I know that I am trying to sacrifice for a future outcome that will take decades to unfold. A little extra work for us right now means more joy in a few more years--for us, our children, grandchildren, and future generations.
So perhaps the next time I encourage my children to share a toy, wait patiently for each other, or help each other, I will remind myself that I am increasing their chances for a happy marriage.

When you give a child a sibling, you are giving them a gift that lasts forever.