Friday, May 25, 2012

On Habit-Forming

 Our pastor gave a sermon illustration a few weeks ago about a man he knew who had been married a long while. (This is my remembered version, so if I get some details wrong, forgive me.) Once, while the pastor was visiting him, he was pouring coffee and accidentally spilled some on the counter. He noticed the man immediately cleaned up the spill, almost without thinking. When the man was a bachelor, he lived a slovenly life and would never have thought twice about leaving it there. When asked about it, he told the pastor that his wife always cleaned up messes quickly to avoid trouble later. Since he and his wife had been living together for so long, the wife's habits had become ingrained in him as well.

The point of the illustration was that if we spend more time with Jesus (praying, studying the Word, etc.), then we will become more like Him. I got that, of course. Still, as I sat there I also realized that my husband probably hasn't picked up many of those types of habits from me, even though we've been married almost ten years. If you've ever been to my house, you know that I struggle with discipline in this area of maintaining order. Housekeeping in general has been a struggle whenever I've lived in more than 100 square feet (camp cabin, dorm room -- those were easier). I still alphabetize and categorize my books, but other, more obvious things just overwhelm me.

So, I've set about on a slow course to become more orderly. I'm realizing it all starts with retraining myself and forming new habits. Good habits. Like cleaning up messes as they happen. Emptying the dishwasher every morning and keeping the sink clean. Paying attention to my children and looking them in the eye when they talk to me. Exercising often. Putting away laundry as soon as it is folded. And, especially, spending time in the Bible first thing in the morning, before the day gets away from me. I used to think that was a silly rule for myself, to say that I HAD to read my Bible early in the morning. However, this past week I've been going back and finishing all the CBS lessons I skipped over the course of the last year. I've come to realize that if it's not my first priority, I probably won't get to it. (So, keep me accountable, please, any real-life friends who read this.)

[Character] doesn't come by accident. It comes through the self-discipline required to do anything in life really well-- to learn a musical instrument, to mend a tractor, to give a lecture, to run an orphanage. Or, indeed, to live as a wise human being. Again and again, when you're working hard at a difficult or complex task, the mind will try to jump away, to focus on something easier or more enticing. And again and again, if you're going to get the job done, you have to force your mind back onto the job and away from the distraction. And the mental muscles you require if you're going to do that have to be trained, just as much as the physical muscles do when you're working up for sustained and strenuous exercise. (This, by the way, is one of the underlying reasons why watching television for hours on end can be such a bad habit. Programs are carefully designed to be enticing and undemanding. They offer "training" in avoiding hard work, in "going with the flow." Which is fine for relaxation, but not for learning the mental habits you need for a fully human existence.)

The above excerpt is from a book I've begun reading which is all about developing Christian virtues and forming character, which is timely. But it's also timely for me as a parent. Over the coming summer months and the next school year especially I want to focus on developing virtuous habits in our children. And, of course, it starts with me! I have to set the example. For myself, I'm starting with Attention and Order. Less TV. More books. Limited Facebook. More household duties as priorities. And an end to my Angry Birds addiction. (I think I may need an intervention on that one.) Lord, give me strength!

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Left to Their Own Devices

Television is both a fun diversion and the bane of my existence. If it gets turned on during the day, I have a tendency to use it as a quick babysitter for things like taking a shower, talking on the phone, writing e-mails, and the like. But sometimes, those "quick" TV breaks become longer or more frequent. And then the whining begins. And so I make them --and make myself-- turn it off. (Television: Teacher. Mother. Secret lover.)

This week, although we have had the TV on at least some time during the day, I've been making a point to turn it off, to shoo them away, to keep the cabinet closed. And it amazes me some things the boys have done on their own. Mind you, these are all COMPLETELY spontaneous and independently motivated. (I was usually busy with a sick, snot-nosed, sad little baby or trying to stay on top of laundry and meals.)

 -- created a car "store" complete with homemade fake paper money, prices on the cars, a parking lot, and sales "desks" (that looked eerily as cluttered and paper-filled as their parents' after only a few hours) Sadly, I did not get a picture before we cleaned it up. Little pieces of paper and crawling babies don't mix.
Calvin was their second customer

-- built an incredibly huge wooden train track that stretches across the entire living room floor and even goes through the inside of their wooden castle

(Ok, so I did make the castle suggestion -- it was sitting there, blocking their way, so I thought they could at least make it useful.)
you can't go over it, you can't go under it, you have to go THROUGH it!

-- made up a game called "Silly Band Treasure Hunt" in which Jacob created a treasure hunt map of the house in order for Ethan to search for and find their box of Silly bands. I think he just liked telling him where to go. The map was cool, though. It even has an "X" to mark the spot!

-- created a "boat train airplane park" with every single toy vehicle we own lined up in neat little rows
the monster cometh

-- at least three blanket forts have been created and demolished since Monday. This afternoon, Jacob was singing a little song "I'm the soft floor repairman. I am coming to your driveway. I repair your soft floor!" I had to ask what that was all about -- apparently he was putting a sleeping bag down in their latest blanket/furniture fort. He was giving them a "soft floor."

Plus, we still have a "DANGER Construction Zone" handmade signs taped all around our house from last week when they were building child-sized cars out of cardboard boxes in the living room.

we're still working on Z's

These are the things I want them to remember about their childhood when they get older. (Not the names of all the characters on their favorite shows, though I still remember those, too, and I turned out alright. I think.)

Wednesday, May 09, 2012

A King and a Kingdom

One (of many) radical thoughts I am trying to grasp from tonight's Bible study at church:

When the kingdom of God is being intoned ("Thy kingdom come...") the focus is NOT about the size or scope of the kingdom or about the stuff IN the kingdom, it is about the POWER of the King. The Kingdom is present because the King is present.

Now, go read all those passages in the gospels or in other places that deal with the kingdom. Mind-blowing, eh? I'm still wrapping my brain around it, and it's making me want to go read more Scripture and more books, which is always a good thing.

Saturday, May 05, 2012

These are the Days'll remember.

Or, at least, these are the days I WANT to remember.

My oldest, who is five, was the first one up this morning. At 6:45 a.m. I attempted to read with him while the baby played on the floor. We just started reading chapter books and finished Charlotte's Web in a flash this week due to a bout of sickness. He was really being whiny and I couldn't tell how he was feeling. I tried starting The Hobbit, but it may have been too advanced for him. (Or maybe he just felt bad and so nothing was appealing?!) We have plenty of kids' books right now, but not many chapter books that I think he would enjoy. Maybe James and the Giant Peach? I plan to check out Treasure Island from the library soon. I think he'd enjoy the pirates.

Soon, middle brother awoke, in a bleary-eyed three year old way. He wanted TV. But, I would have none of it. Yesterday in the car we listened to Andrew Peterson's song "Little Boy Heart Alive" and the line: "Open the door and run outside, little boy heart alive into the morning light, into the deep and wide..." kept running through my head. So I tried to get us all to see how glorious it was early in the day, while it was still cool. And so we went outside. In our PJ's, nonetheless. Two of us were barefoot.

That adventure didn't last long because middle brother began clamoring for breakfast, and the baby, too. Bagels and cream cheese for all, scavenged from Daddy's work, leftover from a meeting. What can I say? We were out of bagels and they were there, so I encouraged him to take all he could fit in his lunchbox, which was exactly 4.

Eldest brother complained the entire morning, through breakfast and everything. Which happens sometimes and is to be expected, but I was going to have none of it at the table. I felt bad, though, later, after he went to the bathroom and had a horrible upset tummy. No wonder he was complaining, poor kid.

He still felt bad and wanted to stay in, but Mommy needed to GET OUT and get some fresh air. So, I left Daddy with the boy on the couch. Daddy wanted to take a shower, so there went the "no TV" admonition for the day. I took the middler and the baby in the double stroller for a jog. I'm only on Day 3 of the nine-week Couch to 5K program. It's only taken me, er, close to two weeks to get started. I was motivated at the beginning and even went to the gym two days in a row, but then life happened and everyone got sick. I was proud to just complete the workout today. It was hot. And there were hills. And did I mention I was pushing two kids in a huge jogging stroller? Yeah.

When I returned, Daddy escaped. He's finishing up a final paper for his class on OT prophets and needed some Starbucks. Our coffee maker (RIP!) died this week. We have yet to get a new one. Le sigh. Shower for me, more TV for the middle and eldest, nap for the baby, lunch, playing outside happened somewhere in there, and then Daddy called.

We loaded into the van to pick him up at the local auto repair shop, where he was dropping off his car. This was planned, b/c he'd been having trouble for a while. Off we all went to Costco, where all three boys fell asleep in the drive down to the store.

Excellent. Mommy gets to go solo! I picked up two cakes for a farewell party our church is having for some dear friends. Then, I proceeded to go down the list. I used to visit a warehouse store (BJ's, Costco) once a quarter, but this year I'm finding that a once-a-month trip is necessary. I keep a running list of items we need on the fridge, and it was a treat to complete it in solitude. It also meant more time for me to enjoy the samples. Picked up pizza and soda for lunch for Daddy, who was waiting in the car, studiously reading, while all three boys slept. We dropped off the cakes at church and went home.

Daddy left us again to get a haircut and two out of three were still sleeping, but when everyone woke up they all seemed to feel great. We had the most amazing little mostly impromptu water party in our neighbor's yard. Ok, so it was supposed to be in OUR yard, and we'd invited a few people earlier in the week, planning to set out the baby pool and the sprinkler, much like our down-the-street neighbor did for us last week. But apparently the spray nozzle on the hose on the front of the house refuses to come off (even our really strong contractor-friend tried and he couldn't do it) and thwarted our plan. So, our across-the-street neighbors (who were coming over and bringing a cool inflatable pool) volunteered their nice green grass. And I proceeded to bring on the people! (And the popsicles!) Two five-year-old girls, a five and a six-year-old boy, three more boys ages 3, 2, and 1, the neighbor's little 2-yr old girl, and our little chillin' Calvin, who is now eight months old. Oh, and their parents. Mostly the moms. Wish I'd gotten pictures, but I foresee more of these in our future!

Dinner was homemade hamburger helper. Because apparently I can only eat the stuff if I put it together. It was tasty, actually, and quick. Daddy left us yet again to set up for communion at church. Bath and bedtime was comparatively smooth, and I pulled out one of my old Childcraft books for story-time. Did you know that the 5th of May is also a national holiday in Japan called Boys' Day? Neither did I! Next year we need to make carp-shaped flags to hang in our yard honoring our house full of boys. Or maybe we could change it up and use a different animal. Whenever I read the Three Billy Goats Gruff, I pretend they are the Three Billy Goats Redd and try to eat them up.

We're still enjoying the 365 Great Bible Stories alongside our frequented and favorite The Jesus Storybook Bible. Tonight's 365 story was from I Kings, about Ahab and how he went to battle despite God's wishes, then tried to stay out of the sight of the enemy by dressing as a common soldier. Instead, a "random" arrow from the Syrians came through a chink in his armor and eventually killed him. You can't hide from God, fool. He is Lord over even the most powerful kings.

And now I think I'm going to go look at the SUPERMOON with my dear husband, fold some more laundry, finish preparing for tomorrow and all it brings, and maybe fall asleep reading about Bilbo Baggins and his adventures with Gandalf the Grey.