Friday, August 24, 2012

It Does (thankfully) Take a Village

We were picking crabs one night with friends on an unseasonably warm late spring evening. The sky threatened to ruin our evening, but other than a few sprinkles, it never made good on its promises. 

Our friends’ teenager is my oldest son’s best friend and I affectionately call him my “other son.” He is the youngest of four incredibly smart, competent, and truly good kids. I’m in awe of this couple and what they’ve accomplished. My own kids seem like spoiled slackers in comparison. So I take every opportunity to hang out with them, hoping some of their wisdom will rub off on me. 

When the crabs arrived, the other dad joined the kids at their end of the picnic table and launched in to an enthusiastic lesson on how to properly pick crabs. He was patient and encouraging, and waded through their questions about “the gross yellow stuff” and the “squiggly white things” with good humor, calmly admonishing my youngest not to “bash” the crabs quite so hard with his hammer.  

His wife and I watched and she laughed and said, “He’s good to have around. He always makes sure everyone is taken care of and having fun.”

I comment, “That probably makes him good to raise four kids with.”

She smiled and said, “That too.” 

It’s important to have a partner when raising kids. In fact, it’s important to have several partners, whether they are spouses, uncles, aunts, grandparents, friends, or teachers. None of us have all the qualities of the perfect parent. None of us can teach our kids all they need to know. It may be cliché, but it certainly does take a village. 

School is peeking over the horizon and every conversation with other parents begins, “Which teacher did your child get?” Of course, there are a few I would prefer, but at this juncture in my experience, I have to say, it isn’t critical. My kids have had some wonderful teachers – people who lifted them up and brought out abilities in them I had never thought possible. And my kids have had some not so stellar teachers. It’s inevitable. Even teachers with a reputation for being excellent aren’t always a good match for a particular kid. 

I remember an elementary school teacher my oldest son had years ago. She was difficult and unorganized and critical of my son. To his credit, he took it well. After sitting in for recess once again for a missing paper (that turned up in her stack on her second search), he came home and said, “I’ve figured her out.”

“Really?” I asked, curious to hear his observations.

“Yeah, she’s from a different planet than me. So I’ve just got to figure out what language she speaks on her planet.”  Not bitter, and with nothing else to add, he headed outside to play. 

I was blown away once again by the wisdom of a child. And grateful for this teacher I had been lamenting. She was teaching my son a lesson it takes many of us years to learn. We all have to work with people who don’t “speak our language.” It’s part of life and figuring out how to play nicely with everyone is an important life skill critical to our success and survival.  

My husband and I have very different parenting styles. He’s more of a take-no-prisoners kind of dad. He yells first and asks questions later. Generally his first answer is no, but the kids know he can be reasoned with. This may sound harsh, but it is a good counter-balance to my waffling-let-me-explain-why-I-think-you-should-do-this way of parenting. My kids have figured out when it comes to just about anything except what they eat and how much screen time they get, there is always wiggle room with me. 

Some days I get frustrated with myself and the authority that seems to elude me not only with my children, but with my incorrigible dog. So it’s nice to have someone who isn’t afraid to be the bad guy. 

My husband is the one who teaches them the technical stuff – math, tools, computers, and sports. My expertise is better suited to teaching them about relationships, social issues, personal health, and wondering. It helps when your spouse is such a perfect complement, even though our differences can also get in the way of presenting the unified front that good parents should have.  

My mother-in-law is really good at teaching my children to be skeptical of the messages they hear from the media and their peers. My mom loves to indulge my children and in so doing teaches them it’s OK to enjoy forbidden fruits like Fluffanutter sandwiches and Cinnamon Toast Crunch cereal every now and again (or whenever you visit Grammy).  

The example my little brother has set by serving in the Air Force for 22 years has been a living object lesson in respect for our country and the fact that there are people who risk their lives for our freedom. 

There have been many volunteer coaches that have imprinted on my kids, I couldn’t mention them all. During baseball season one coach told my husband, “Your son is such a joy – so coachable and fun to have around.” When he relayed the coach’s comments, I teared up in gratitude and pride. It humbles me again and again that these men and women volunteer their time and energy (and patience!) to help my children learn not only how to play a sport, but to be team players. 

The bad examples can sometimes teach our children important lessons too. Watching a confrontation in the Walmart parking lot, led to a discussion on respecting others. A snide comment about my bumper sticker from a person who disagreed with my electoral choice, gave us a chance to talk about political freedoms.  

Unexpected witnesses also imprint on our children. Working at our church’s soup kitchen and encountering a mentally ill person, opened up a conversation on the challenges of caring for someone who can’t care for themselves which wound its way to a discussion at the bus stop of our society’s responsibility in such circumstances. 
(Pictured is a coach my son still views as a superhero.)
Teachers, partners, healers, leaders, and prophets are scattered all through our lives. Appreciating this can help you to feel less alone as a parent. 

I’ll say it again, it take a village to raise good kids. None of us can do this alone and that is a relief! So on the days I don’t think I’m up to snuff on this parenting deal, I take comfort in fact that so many other people are investing in my kids. In the end it will be a cumulative effort. I won’t be able to take all the credit, nor all the blame. Whew!

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Nearly Empty Nest

Being thrown from the nest can be a good or bad experience depending on your ability to adapt and your attitude. This week I threw three chickens and one child from our nest.  

Broody hens are uncommon. At least that’s what the chicken books say. Today’s domestic chickens have had all the broodiness bred out of them. Their job is to lay eggs or become dinner. For the last two years I’ve had a silly number of broody hens. Broody hens are hens that have become overwhelmed with the desire to hatch eggs. They will park themselves on the eggs and refuse to move, foregoing food and water, and pecking anyone who tries to move them. 

Last year I humored three of my hens and allowed them to hatch chicks. It was all fun and memory making and all that until the chicks grew up to be roosters (five of the seven) and we had to butcher them. Not fun. Not happy memories. So this year when three of my hens started in with the brooding, I cruelly (and carefully) removed them from their eggs each night and stuffed them in the hen house with the rest of the girls. I did this for nearly a month grumbling all the way. I confess that I was less than gentle with my words and actions many nights. It was a battle of wills. 

Alas, the hens proved more stubborn than I, and I was forced to not only remove them from their nests, but also from the chicken yard. Having tried to convince them to give up their brooding dreams the nice way, it was time to stop asking. With the addition of 25 new almost grown up chicks to the chicken yard, there was no room to be spared in the laying boxes. We have three lovely laying boxes that our girls share happily. During the brooding fiasco, the broody hens allowed the other older hens to climb right in with them and add their eggs to the nest. Not so for these next upstarts. When the younger hens venture near the laying boxes the three old biddies start clucking and threatening and getting their feathers all ruffled up.  

Nature is soon going to dictate that these young hens lay their first eggs. And in years past there have never been any issues with the younger hens copying the older hens and laying their eggs in the boxes too. But right now there are no available boxes. So, in a fit of frustration I threw all three hens out of the chicken yard. They have been frantically pacing the fence wanting back in. This is somewhat ironic to me since I have to clip all their wings each spring so they will not escape the yard.  

Never mind that what these hens have been sitting on lately is the golf balls I left in place of the eggs I will not let them hatch. They are frantic to get back to their golf balls. One of the hens is so stressed out her feathers are falling out.  

The young hens have been carefully exploring the boxes full of golf balls. It won’t be long before they lay their first tiny eggs. The first eggs a chicken lays is comically small, but they get successively bigger. 

And what about the child thrown from the nest? Although she protested as we packed her up for camp (a camp she decided she wanted to attend four months ago), once she saw her tent and tent mates she couldn’t get rid of me fast enough. I suppose removing this one from the nest follows a natural path of separation. It is a trial run for when she separates herself from us for good in just a few years. If that event is anything like this one, I’ll have to be careful the door doesn’t smack me in the butt when she thanks me for the ride and shoos me away.

 The hens are another story. It’s been five days and two of them repented of their broody ways and are back with the other girls. The third one still stalks the fence line by day and huddles in the rafters of the barn by night. At least half of her feathers are gone now and she is a sorry sight. She cannot seem to let go of her dreams of hatching a golf ball. I suppose I understand some of what she’s going through. Only it wasn’t so hard for me to leave my golf ball since she’s all grown up and in good hands.  

Still all week I have missed her and wondered if she is enjoying camp. I wonder if she has de-toxed from the sudden break from her electronics. I wonder if she is learning to make a friendship bracelet and a dream catcher. I wonder if she is playing her guitar around a campfire and singing songs I learned when I was a kid. I worry that she isn’t brushing her teeth or using enough sunscreen. 

Her leaving the nest for a while is good for her and for me. She’s remembering that she can take care of herself and that life can be rich without an internet connection. I’m realizing all the ways she adds sparkle and energy to this household. I’m also realizing that the quiet is only nice for the first few hours. After that I want my golf ball back.