Saturday, April 28, 2007

Losing My Religion

I don't always know how strict to be with our religious practice and instruction with the kids. We are Orthodox Christians, but Luke, in particular, seems drawn to quite a spiritual smorgasbord. And, truth be told, we aren't strict at all. I'm always happy when my kids show some sort of spiritual inclination, even if it isn't within our religious tradition.

I think it all started when Luke was about a year old. We were at a long, crowded Orthodox service, and I took Luke outside for a walk. He immediately toddled over to the Baptist church next door where there was some great singing and dancing going on, and walked up the steps. He stood, enthralled, for about ten minutes, which was nine minutes longer than he had ever stood still at our church.

Then, when Luke was three years old, he started attending a Waldorf school. This type of schooling is based on the methods of Rudolf Steiner, who founded the Anthroposophy movement, which is basically a philosophy/religion. So while the school isn't a religious school per se, it is informed at every turn by anthroposophy--which, I might add, is pretty kooky. But we do love the school. Except there is this little detail: Luke prefers to say his school "blessings" before we eat rather than our Orthodox prayers. So as we light a candle, he says "Fire fairy, fire bright, thank you for your golden light." Then, making lovely little hand gestures, he sings something like, "Sun, that gives us golden light, earth, that gives to us this food, dear earth, dear sun, we won't forget what you have done." Now, it is probably all about the singing and the hand gestures, and also about doing his own thing, but I sometimes wonder if we should allow Luke to cultivate these little pagan-like rituals.

And then there was that time that Luke met his Guardian Angel. It was downtown in a Subway restaurant. Chicago was hosting the Gay Games, which I can't believe was a coincidence. We dashed into the place to escape a huge thunderstorm, as did many others. All the tables were taken except for one, and on it were four lovely, feathered, white wings. At the table beside the wings sat two men, both dressed in all white. "Excuse me," I asked, "Are these your wings?" They did belong to the men, who politely moved them. Luke then began to quiz them.

"Are you Angels?"

"Yes," they replied.

"Why did you take off your wings?" Luke asked.

"Because we are taking a break from flying," they responded.

"Why did you leave heaven?" Luke questioned.

"Well, we are on an exchange program," was their answer.

Later that night, when I said the Guardian Angel prayer with Luke, he said excitedly, "I may have met my Guardian Angel today!" I hmmmmmed a lot and left it at that.

Also, Luke is obsessed with Greek Myths. And Russian Folk Tales. And The Arabian Knights. Anything in the "Myths and Legends" section of our public library. All of which, obviously, go into great detail about other systems of belief. I don't broach this too much with Luke, besides an occasional, "Are these real gods?" question, which Luke always answers with a no. And then we usually laugh, because, really, what kind of a god would get mad at people and do mean things to them? Well, except the Old Testament God, I guess. But no problem--I overheard Craig telling Luke that the Genesis creation story is a metaphor. Whew! I'm glad Luke has that cleared up. I don't want him to get confused or anything.

Henry loves church. Every time I ask him if he wants to go to church, he says, "Yes! Church! God! (Father) John!" But Luke--not so much church love there. So I think I'm okay with his exploration of spirituality in all of these various forms. Who is to say, after all, that he didn't meet his Guardian Angel that day? I'll bet if Jesus were here today, he would visit the Gay Games.

And then, the other morning, I overheard Luke talking to God. He was muttering, "Dear God, let us all have a good day today. Let me be nice and let mommy not be too crabby."


Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Half Full, or Half Empty?

We are always struggling with how to deal with Luke's misbehavior. Lately, we have been working on being as positive as possible with him, as this seems to help him the most. So today, after he and Henry got in a punching match--and after I separated them and time-outed them and lectured them sufficiently--I sat them both down and told them that they are both very special. Each of them, I said, was made especially by God for our family. But, I threw in, they are each very different.

"Yes," said Luke. "I see the house half full, and Henry sees the house half empty."

And you know, I think I always thought of Luke as a half empty kind of guy, prone to moodiness and self-doubt, flying into rages at the smallest of setbacks. But I'm glad to know he thinks otherwise. And, in true, grandiose Luke fashion, his metaphor for life isn't just a glass. It's a house.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Oopsy Henry

Henry is extremely clumsy. I'm beginning to wonder if I should be worried. The thing is, I can't figure out why he bumps his head multiple times a day, how he manages to flip, headfirst, off of so many large objects.

Just this morning he was sitting on the counter, helping me make coffee. I was holding the glass caraffe over by the sink, while he sat a few feet away by the coffee maker. Then, before I knew it, I saw him rolling, headfirst, off the counter. My mama instinct kicked in, and I was over to him in a flash. Of course, I still had that caraffe in my hand. So I saved Henry from hitting his head on the tile. He did, however, shatter the caraffe with his head.

My instinct tells me that there is nothing wrong with him. But the way he approaches the world is so open and joyful and bumbling--he is bound to be tripped up by reality. Half his accidents are caused by his flirting. He focuses on a person, waves and smiles and carries on, meanwhile running into a wall.

I guess I hope he doesn't change.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Important Childhood Moments

"Now just a touch of fish sauce!"

Climbing a tree

Bouncing while chewing a frog

Chocolate Painting

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

The Artistic Process

Luke colored me this picture yesterday morning. He colored the balloons, the rainbow, the sky, and the little girl. Then he proudly handed me the picture.

"Thank you Luke! This picture is so beautiful!" I exclaimed.

"Wait!" he yelled in a panicked voice. "I forgot the gravestones!"

"Okay," I responded, waiting for the story to unfold.

And I really should have thought of it, you know. Surely I saw the gaping hole in this pretty scene.

"Long before Trader Joe's existed here," Luke began, "there was a fierce battle, and many fell. This is why there are gravestones."


Sunday, April 08, 2007

Parenting Advice

Here is the key to parenting: It is difficult. There is no way around it. And anyone who tries to sell you a book that will make it less unwieldy, less scary, less disorderly, is selling you a pack of lies. At least that is what I think. But if your experience is different, I'm okay with that.

But Dr. Spock. Dr. Sears. John Rosemond. Dr. Dobson. The FlyLady. They don't work for me. Timeouts. Spanking. Reward charts. Not my cup of tea.

I have been disillusioned way too many times.

Not to say that keeping an orderly house doesn't make life a little more bearable, or that a timeout or a sticker chart can't help in some situations. But I'm the kind of gal that needs a bag of tricks. A parenting toolkit.

And underneath it all, what really works for me is being a calm and gentle person myself, working on not throwing my own tantrums. Working on being the best example I can for my children. Communicating as authentically as I can with them.

I always have this little voice in the back of my head that chides me for not being in better control of my children. But here's something I have realized, and I know it may rub some people the wrong way: My goal is not to control my children. My goal is to help them be loving, thriving adults. And I think the journey there will be awkward, tiring, and not always very pretty. And of course, there will also be moments of nearly unbearable beauty and joy.

Maybe I'm letting myself off the hook. My children behave horribly sometimes. But I don't often feel that their behavior really corrolates with how "good" of a parent I'm being at the time, how strict a disciplinarian or how perfectly I remember to reward the good behavior.

The better I discipline myself, the better our life together feels. And that's about all the advice I can give.

Monday, April 02, 2007

Two Small Victories

I feel out of words, lately, which is strange. I think part of it is that I have been realizing that I am a far, far worse mother when I try to spend time on the computer while my children are awake (from 5 am to 7 pm), and after they go to sleep I'm really not good for much.

But I do have two small miracles to report: Last week, we went to Presanctified Liturgy (an evening church service that we celebrate during Lent that I love) and it went really well. It starts at 6:30, which is when we are usually turning off the kids' lights at our house. But we needed to go to confession and we really wanted to attend one Presanctified during Lent--a lofty goal!--and so we just did it. Henry fell asleep in the car and napped while we went to confession before the service, and Luke was in one of his unpredictable, wonderful moods. So it was all quite lovely. And, yes, there was the moment before communion when the boys were wrestling up on a pew over a baggie of goldfish. And, true, we did bring Luke's inflatable Batman bed, which for some reason distracted me. But when it was all said and done, the service was more fortifying than draining, which is not often the case.

And the other: I have, not once, but twice, been able to complete an exercise video with my children around. This might not sound like much, but it has been years--years!--since this has happened. It feels like some small piece of myself that I have reclaimed, and it is sweeter because I didn't have to pay or bribe someone to take my kids away in order for it to happen.