Lessons for Liam:: Tolerance

Dear Liam,
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It has been awhile, hasn’t it? A lot has changed. You have changed.

You are such a fascinating little person at five and a half years old, Lee. I find you hilarious and gorgeous and completely daunting.

The other day, we went grocery shopping and afterward, because I am not above bribery, we stopped by the dollar store so you could pick out a toy for leaving your poor mother in one piece.

You chose an FBI kit. It had a badge, and a walkie talkie and a gun. We got it home and opened it up and you had a wonderful afternoon playing “spy.” I briefly considered removing the gun, but you tucked it in your belt loop and never pulled it out again so I decided to let it go.

The next day, on a warm, summer morning, while you and I were swimming in a beautiful pool with our friends,  a young man shot and ultimately killed 5 people in our little city.

The FBI kit had been discarded in the way of most cheap toys. I had forgotten all about it, to be honest, until you walked up a few days later and pointed that cheap, plastic orange gun in my face as you told me a silly story and laughed. My heart jumped into my throat and I yanked the gun from your hand.

You were offended, and rightly so. I had allowed you to have the toy and then did not explain myself as I snatched it away. You are five. You went swimming that day and you played with your friends and you were happy because I never said we had to go home. We stayed all day. You had no way of knowing it was because the roads were closed and people had died.

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So, I clumsily attempted to explain to you why I had such a harsh reaction to seeing my little boy holding a gun that day. And I wasn’t very good at it but I think you understood because you never asked for the gun again. And you always ask again.

What you have asked is why the man killed people….and you aren’t the only one, my love.

One afternoon last week, you asked if you could go and see the memorial and I said yes. And then you said this:

I don’t think that man was always bad. I think he must had read bad books or saw bad things. He must have put bad words into his mind and so then he became bad and instead of doing the good things that he wanted to do, he killed people.

I told you that I thought you were probably right and for a moment I saw the face that I have seen plastered across every news channel for weeks, softened and small and questioning….just like yours. You always have a way of making me think, kiddo. 

Liam, I hope that you love people always. I hope you try to understand them always. But here is what I want you to understand: sometimes, you just won’t and that is okay.

You will meet people that make you crazy.
You will meet people that you do not understand.

No matter how open-minded and free-thinking and compassionate you are, you will one day meet a person that you want to hate.
Don’t.

They may be so wrong about something it makes your head spin and all you want to do is cut them down to size, squash them, make them feel small and stupid and weak because that is how they deserve to feel.
Don’t.

Maybe they are hateful and ignorant and they have hurt others with that ignorance and you want to give them a taste of their own medicine.
Don’t.

Do not hate, Liam. Do not hate. Do not put the bad words into your mind. Hate poisons everything it touches. Hate is what turns inquisitive little boys with orange plastic guns into men willing to take other mens’ lives.

Argue. Disagree. Speak out. Stand up for what you believe in. Make your case. Go against the grain. But never, ever hate.

Someone once told me a long time ago that teaching tolerance is not enough; that we have to teach our children to embrace differences. And I think this is a lovely thought. Of course I want to embrace the differences of others and to teach you to do the same. It would be so nice if everyone’s differences were just so easy to accept all the time, if everyone was just a genuinely decent person just trying to get along in the world…but I also see now that sometimes…we just can’t.

Sometimes, I have no desire to embrace the person standing on the other side of an issue close to my heart. Sometimes, I cannot see things from the other point of view.

But I can choose not to hate.
I can tolerate.

So Liam, I want to ask you to embrace those you can and to tolerate those that you cannot embrace. Look them in the eye. Acknowledge their humanity. Recognize their right to exist on this planet. And then….walk away, son.

I love you. No matter what.
– Mama
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Two by Two

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Another year with Dexter the Extraordinary has passed. It has been a silly, loud and entertaining year. He has changed so much!

His vocabulary is finally exploding. I am so ready to be able to talk to my sweet boy. For my own entertainment, here are the words he knows:
Hi
Bye
Mama
Papa
Rory
Brother (Bubu)
Pizza (Pee-da)
Cheese
Nurse (urrr)
No (mo)
Yes (Dup)
Book (Boo)
Boots (Boo)
Mine
Please (Eese + the sign)
Thank you (Ta-tu)
Ball
Train (choo choo)
Dog (woof woof)
Bath (Ba)
Ouch
Yogurt (yoya)
Again (adee)
More (Mo…not to be confused with mo)
Thirsty (ferfer)
Want it (wanna)

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I am so looking forward to another year with this kid. He is a wonder to behold and a joy to know.

A big thumbs up for another year of you, Dexy-K! We love you so much!

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Happy Birthday, Papa

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I have always been one to celebrate. I love holidays and I love birthdays. I enjoy planning surprises and witnessing reactions. I love anything that includes anticipation, savoring the moment, making memories and being with those I love.

We have been on a tight budget and that, coupled with the string of birthdays we face at the end of July, has forced me to get a bit creative when it comes to celebrating Papa on his special day.

As we were going about birthday preparations this year, I realized how differently we celebrate these days. I didn’t spend an extra penny, but I never worried that our Papa wouldn’t feel special. I used to worry about that a lot. Did I do enough? Will they know they mean a lot to me? Are they happy?

It is different now. As the boys excitedly wrote love notes, taped up streamers and asked when Papa was getting home every five minutes, I realized there is no way for the love not to be completely and totally transparent. I also could not help but laugh at the quirky ways parents with small children say, “I love you.”

Here is a peak into our Papa celebration and some of the silly ways we showed him how glad we are he was born. 

Decorations

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You know all those odds and ends from various parties that you generally toss?  I keep them. I stash them in a tupperware container in my closet and then rummage through it to find things that would be useful for various celebrations.  When you invite people over for free cake, no one is going to care that the napkins have birds on them and the plates have stars or  that the streamers are crinkly from being at the end of the roll. Trust me.

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Even if you didn’t save anything, homemade decorations are the best; paper chains and homemade birthday signs hung with clumps of tape smashed against the wall by little fingers. Who can resist that?

The boys LOVED decorating for Papa’s “party.”

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Food

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Anyone who knows me knows I tend to be a stickler for healthy eating at home. But Ryan is allowed to request whatever he wants for his birthday dinner and I make it happen. This is a man that ate kale at every meal for 6 months when I was on a Fresh 20 kick. He has perfected the art of not making a face when I hand him various foods he would never eat in a million years and ask him to try them. He will suck down a spinach smoothie and pretends to eat vegetables to set a good example for the boys.

If he wants beanie weanies and macaroni and cheese on his birthday, that is what he gets.

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I used to run out the night before to get all the ingredients for special occasion meals. I have finally mastered the art of working them into our actual grocery budget in advance and it makes the whole thing, candy bar blondies and all, basically free- or rather no more than we would have spent otherwise.

I showered.

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Any fellow parent will understand the sacrifice and willpower it takes to find time to shower in the middle of the day. Nap time coordination, speed washing, the chill of the bathroom air from leaving the door open so you can hear any screaming or shenanigans- this all takes an incredible amount of effort. Nothing says “Happy Birthday” like not smelling like regurgitated milk and baby tears when your loved one comes home!

Your welcome, Ryan.

Love Notes

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The boys spent an entire eleven minutes sitting in one place coloring pictures for their papa.

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Then they wanted to write him letters to put in the mailbox as well.

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Eleven minutes. In one place. This is basically a miracle. No Target gift card can compare.

Cleaning

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If you are anything like me, your master bedroom becomes the proverbial dumping ground for everyone else’s junk- oh, no? Just us then? Well…around here our room is not only the last to get cleaned, it is also the last to get furniture, as you can see. It is just low on the priority list. As part of our birthday offering, I put all other chores aside and got our bedroom in shape. It probably doesn’t mean as much to Ryan as it does to me, but who doesn’t like climbing into a bed with fresh, clean sheets in a nice, clean room at the end of the day?

Hats

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We wore party hats. Just because it is freaking adorable.

Surprise!

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Yelling surpise takes a celebration up like 10 notches in excitement, you guys.  Seriously….Liam sat by the window for 10 minutes “spying” for Papa. He chose 3 different hiding spots in the time it took Ryan to walk from his car to the front door. He then enjoyed reliving the moment of suprise for the rest of the evening.

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Perhaps it wasn’t an exotic trip, or concert tickets, or even a fancy dinner out, but I loved seeing my boys throw themselves into loving their Papa on his birthday.

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Happy Birthday, Papa!

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July 18, 2015 · 11:15 am

Little Homestead in the City

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Growing up, the Little House books were a big part of my childhood. I do not remember the first time I read them, but I do remember thinking the Ingalls’ life, for all its hard work and tragedy, had something magical to it. I think Mrs. Wilder must have felt the same way. I imagine she looked back on her childhood with great fondness- enough to write several books about, at least.

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As I have gotten older, I have always aspired to be my own sort of Ma Ingalls. While my life circumstances are obviously quite different, I want to be the sort of woman who can run a household efficiently under the most extreme circumstances, who holds all the knowledge of essential life skills in her head and who raises strong, capable children.

I also want chickens.

But I am really not that woman…

This last year has been challenging. Years prior were also challenging but I feel I handled those challenges with some semblance of grace. I lost a lot of that grace this year. I have felt burned out and tragic. It is kind of pathetic.

I realize that it is hard to become Ma Ingalls when you are not raised in a society that values those sorts of skills. It is hard to be Ma Ingalls in a society that does a lot of complaining about their life and their disadvantages but very little pulling up by the bootstraps, so to speak. It is hard…but not impossible.

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This fall is bringing some exciting things my way. I have been asked to teach a Waldorf-inspired toddler class with a local homeschooling group. It has been endlessly fun preparing lesson plans and learning verses to share with these little ones. It has forced me to re-evaluate our own lifestyle choices and remember the specific things about the Waldorf lifestyle that used to bring me joy.

The tiny co-op we started last year has also decided to go in a new direction. As it will meet at our house, we are hoping to turn our backyard into an outdoor classroom and nature playscape. I have been gathering ideas on ways to turn the blank canvas of our urban yard into an oasis of mud and bugs and stumps and plants and music and imagination and art. I love picturing what it could one day be.

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In a lot of ways, we abandoned simplicity as Liam got older because it is hard to be different. It is hard to stick to something, even something you love, without a community to back you up. We just sort of gave up on a lot of it. But this summer has done a lot to remind me why I was so drawn to a simple life in the first place.

I have always been a believer in balance and flexibility. I do not like the idea of keeping my children from things they love just because I have chosen a “lifestyle” for them. I think they should have a say in how they spend their time and so our plastic action figures and screen time will not be disappearing or anything. But I have been slowly going through our belongings, letting go of some things that we have just because it felt easier to keep them. I have also been slowing myself down, spending a lot of time reflecting, and trying to pinpoint my own priorities in this phase of my life.

It is funny, because when I do that, I realize that even though our lives have changed a lot over the last few years, my priorities have not changed much at all.

I want to have a slow, meaningful life.
I want to read a lot.
I want adventure.
I want to have a warm and welcoming home.
I want have authentic relationships and solid community.
I want to spend a lot of time outside.
I want to be surrounded by beauty.
I want to eat whole, healthy food that I made myself.

And I want chickens.

Things have been rough for a while, but the dust has settled now, you know? When I look around I am so amazed at where we are. I never could have predicted it. We are home.

It is time to start building a life. And even though we aren’t on the prairie…and there is no plum lake or silver lake or big woods, I still can’t help but dream of gardens and homemade bread and little boys in overalls…and chicken, of course.

I think our finding a sustainable, simple sort of life in our little red house in the city will be its own sort of adventure.

Since there is a lot of empty space to fill on this blog as I have gotten out of the habit of using it, I plan to share my journey here. So, in addition to the boys’ cuteness, there will be house/yard updates as I work toward the postage stamp homestead I have always talked about, and stories from our classrooms as I explore this new role I have taken on. It might be a little different but change is good.

At least it is better than silence!

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An Afternoon Among the Trees

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We took Uncle Ethan and Aunt Bianca to Rainbow Falls today.

It was just a little bit rainy.

If you are ever in Chattanooga and need a great, kid-friendly hike, this is the one to take. Dexter walked the entire way down by himself! I was a little annoyed at his refusal to be carried, but mostly just proud of his determination.

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Any day with Uncle Ethan and Aunt Bianca is a good day. This was was maybe a bit soggy, and muddy and noisy…..but a good day, nonetheless.

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Babies Don’t Keep

“Babies don’t keep,” they say.
And it is so true.

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Do the dishes later.
Do the laundry later.
Spend right now with those shape-shifting babies.

And oh, how I want to….. but I also want an empty sink and clean clothes.

I have realized I want to have my cake and eat it too when it comes to this life of mothering my wee little men.

I really, really like a neat and orderly home. I like freshly mopped floors and folded clothing stacked nicely in drawers. I like things to smell good and run smoothly. I blame it on my birth order. First-borns are ridiculously neurotic.

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In the years B.B. (Before Babies) this balance was relatively easy to maintain. Liam slept for 2 hours every afternoon and I would use that time to plunge my hands into a sink full of hot soapy water and clean all the things. I would fold laundry, start dinner, BLOG….and still have time left over for a hot cup of coffee and quiet reflection. While he was awake, he was enriched and educated and played with and talked to uninterrupted.

When I look back on those years, the memories all have sort of this hazy glow to them….like a dream sequence. And we are always wearing white. Hm.

These days, naptime is a thing of the past and not only are my boys having to share my time with each other, they also have to share it with all of the mundane daily tasks that keep us fed and clothed and not living in filth.

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I have noticed that I have an exceptionally difficult time enjoying beautiful moments when I am aware that behind my very strategically and firmly closed bedroom door lies a war zone and a disturbing odor. 

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I am working on finding a new balance.

I have realized though that all those books and articles that tell you to forget everything else…are usually accompanied by pictures of clean children in actual clothing, snuggling with a mother that looks like she is freshly showered. Or of an artfully arranged stack of porcelain plates with small remnants of what looks to be a nutritious, well-rounded meal that was actually consumed by the family, set in an otherwise sparkling sink. They never show the child who has eaten potato chips for roughly 4 out of the last 5 meals, covered in snot and what you hope is dirt but nothing else, hanging on your leg and wailing as you try to walk to the changing table with a look of horror on your face as you realize the baby you are holding has not had a diaper change in 5 hours. Or the mounds of untouched food on the cracked plastic plate from the thrift store that is the only one your child accepts, which you will have to scrap off into the garbage disposal before plunking it into a sink full of murky dishwater

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It shows the little boy playing happily in the mud, but fails to show the trail of mud through the house, the pile of wet clothing that will be forgotten in the corner until they are probably unsalvageable and the ring around the bath tub where you sat washing him clean instead of doing the 20 minute exercise video you thought you could sneak in at least once this week to help you lose the extra 50 lbs of baby weight you have been carrying around for 2 years.

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They never show the toilets in dire need of scrubbing. The overflowing diaper pail. The empty refrigerators. Or the ugly fights you have at 3 am with your spouse.

Sometimes the choices aren’t pretty at all. But you still have to make them.

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So maybe sometimes, you tell your kid you are not going watch him break dance for the 23rd time because you are going to clean out the fridge. And sometimes, you let your husband take the kids out alone so you can mop the floors without teeny tiny footprints scattered across them. And maybe you drop your kids off in child care at the gym and take an hour long shower after your workout. Or you leave them with a sitter and go on a date.

And they aren’t really quotable, these choices you made….but they feel good. And they help you feel more balanced so you can say yes more often and you can breathe more deeply and you can see more clearly.

Because babies don’t keep, you know. And you need room to soak them in.

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