Monday, March 28, 2011

Last Words, Part One - "The People Stood Watching"

Last year for Easter, I participated in a project at our church to reflect on the seven stations of the cross and the last seven statements made by Jesus before his crucifixion. I thought maybe I'd share a few of these this year. A couple won't show up right in the blog because of formatting issues, so I probably won't post those. Writing these poems forced me to really consider the words of Jesus, why he said what he did in these final moments, and reflect on my engagement with and role in the Christian narrative. We're four weeks away from Easter now, so I'll try to post once a week before Easter, maybe with an additional narrative about the writing of each poem.

The People Stood Watching

“Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” - Luke 23:34

Come, see a man who told me everything

I ever did. A man who healed my eyes,

fed me bread he multiplied, poured my cup

of wine, washed my feet, called me out

onto the sea, cursed the unfruitful tree,

received my kiss on his way out of Gethsemane.

Come see a man who raised me from death,

beckoned for me from my tomb, knew me

in my mother’s womb. See him, how he saved


Let him save himself, if he is the chosen

one, the Son of God, of Man, a Nazarene.

Come draw lots with me—which piece

of clothing do you need?

In this poem, my goal was to put myself in the place of a person who stood watching Jesus raised up onto the cross, especially a person who had experienced so much of Jesus's ministry up until that point. I wanted to feel that statement, "Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing" in light of all that he has done. I think if I were to write this poem again today, I might personalize it even more and reflect on those things that Jesus has done in my own life, and what my lousy response has been, how forgetful I am. In fact, I might do just that. Why not, right?

Monday, March 14, 2011

Mercy Me, It's Broccoli

In the ongoing saga of Elvis: To Eat or Not to Eat, the plot recently took a surprising turn. In a world where parents battle preschoolers over eating anything green, where anything labeled "vegetable" is spit out and gagged upon, in a world where kids slip miniature cheese-covered trees down to the dog underneath the table who promptly chews it up and spits it out... in this hair-pulling, fist-pounding, teeth-clenching world, my son shouts, "I LOVE broccoli!"

Broccoli. Really.

Elvis finished eating all of his food first tonight, all the time commenting on how much he loves broccoli. Lydia, the more typical preschooler, suffered through her broccoli and then moved on to the pierogies, slowly but willingly eating her least favorite item on the plate first to get it out of the way. There was much rejoicing.

Yes, yes, my son, I too love broccoli. Verily I say unto you, he that enthusiastically partaketh of the tiny green tree shall reap much reward, in the form of evening movie selection and chocolate ice cream. And sweet daughter, thou art not forsaken; ye, too, by suffering and perseverance shall devoureth the broccoli. Thine inheritance shall be apple crisp and vanilla ice cream. In the words of the author of Proverbs, "May your father and mother be glad; may she who gave you birth rejoice!" (23:25).

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Dinnertime, Part II

I've been thinking more about our predicament with Elvis, and the thing is, even if we gave him his way and let him not eat dinner, the child would still be one of the crankiest little saps on the planet. He is thoroughly crabby. I am rather certain that the glass will always be half-empty for this little boy. So how does one train the pessimism out of a person?

The only solution I have, at least presently, is to pray hard that the Holy Spirit would settle in his heart and help him to have joy and contentment. Forcing him to sit at the table and clean his plate every single night, crying, is unlikely to convince him that all kinds of food are good to eat. Forcing him to take one bite of his food, to at least try it, is a reasonable enough request, and if at that point the child still insists on not eating, then so be it. No dinner. There are plenty of children around the world who do not eat three meals a day and have grown to be healthy human beings. If he changes his mind, then I'll warm up the dish and he can eat.

I can't remember if I've said this already, but I do not want to get into the habit of making Elvis a special, separate dinner, and that isn't going to happen. Granted, if I know that what I've made is an "experimental" dish, I'll make something that I know they will eat, or I'll prepare a variation of the dish that leaves out whatever it is I can bet isn't going to be palletable for preschoolers. But making mac and cheese or hot dogs or PBJ for dinner in addition to whatever I've prepared for the rest of the family isn't going to help matters much either. He already gets all of the potential nutrients from these dishes at lunch time.

I do not think it is unreasonable to expect my kids to try the food that we've prepared for them. It might be going too far to ask them to clean their plates when it is clear they don't like what I've dished out. So as long as they are fine with not eating anything for dinner, then I'm fine with them not eating. After they've tried their food.

I would like to be done with the hour-long crying at the table over whether to even try a bite, though. Someday the rationale behind this will set in for my son. At least I can hope.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Because I Said So

I'd like to have some kind of built-in sensor that beeps or flashes at me when I've crossed the line separating sane, firm, yet loving mother and insane, irrational wacko mom. Maybe it could make a noise like a metal detector... you're okay, you're okay, you're okay... firm enough, firm enough, firm, firm, firm, AHHHHHHH STOP!!!! STOP!!!! You've LOST IT!!!!!!

Nothing in particular has triggered this desire in me tonight. Just the usual battle against my son's attempt to starve himself every night. No, not starve himself. Just take two hours to eat dinner, one hour and fifty minutes of which he spends spinning in his seat, giggling, talking, and maybe chewing occasionally. I do not have patience for two-hour long dinners. Once I've lost all patience, there's no gaining it back the rest of the night. Everything, and I mean everything, needs to be done NOW, when I say so, and if not, the screaming begins. I'm not really much of a screamer - I guess it's more of a voice raised louder than normal. There's no screeching. But it feels like I could screech. I feel like a boiling tea pot - only some of the steam escapes, but man, I am churning up the heat on the inside.

This son of mine wins the race for the slowest human being on the planet. On some occasions, a sloth moves faster. Ask him to put his socks on and maybe twenty minutes later he'd be done. The rest of the outfit might take several hours. And it isn't because he can't do it, though of course that's his whiny little excuse... no, it's because he hates me. Okay, probably not. I don't know why he does this. I don't understand why, when asked to do something, rather than complete it promptly he takes...... a....... day....... and...... a...... half....... to....... move...... his....... hand....... to........ pick..... up........ his...... fork.


I have asked the child if he likes me yelling at him. He says no, but I don't believe him. We try to tell him that he has a choice - to be good or to be disobedient - and whichever he chooses will determine his happiness. Most of the time, I'm happy to say, this works. In fact, it worked for a while tonight. Elvis needed to choose to eat his dinner, and if he chose to eat his dinner before the timer went off (an hour after dinner had started, mind you), he could have a bowl of ice cream. If he chose to continue wiggling in his chair, pouting, and complaining about the food he hadn't yet tried to taste, he would go from the chair in the kitchen to bed - no ice cream, no games, nothing. He chose wisely, and by 7:00, he had just two pieces of pork chop left on his plate. By 7:05, both pieces were in his mouth, and chocolate ice cream was waiting to be eaten, too.

Amazingly, my son turns into a ravenous wolf when ice cream is involved. If he moves as slow as a sloth when asked to do something he doesn't feel all that compelled to do right this minute, he sprints like a cheetah when the price is right. This only aggravates us more. The child has it in him to complete a task willingly and expediently. The key term in the previous sentence is "willingly", and that's what it seems to boil down to - whether it is his will, or mine, or dad's, that ultimately wins out. And Elvis does not want to do what he does not want to do. That's that.

Added to Elvis's stubbornness is our chosen parental philosophy: You will not win this battle, boy. My son wins when he has proceeded along the path of obedience. The dramatic pout and collapse to the floor causes him to lose, every time.

I don't mean to make it sound like Elvis is the worst kid on the block. By no means, and in fact, I've seen a dramatic improvement in his behavior the last few weeks - from improved manners to a willingness to serve - and those moments are beginning to outweigh the times when he flat out refuses to do what we want him to do. He really is a good little boy. But he's still three and a half years old. He's got a clever way of manipulating and manuevering his way however he can to get out of what it is we have in mind.

I really would like some kind of pacemaker for patience, though. Because I am just as strong-willed as my child. And my husband is, too. Sometimes I wonder whether my insistence on a task being complete is me teaching my child obedience or whether it's me wanting him to do it and it's my way or the highway no matter what so you better get on it because I said so. I don't want to exasperate my children the way they tend to exasperate me. I want them to respect authority, but I also want them to feel empowered to question authority. Maybe it's a litmus test I'm looking for - something I can dip into each demand and interpret the results in order to determine whether this is a lesson in obedience or whether this is me trying to run a dictatorship.

The last thing I want to do is break his spirit. I want my children to know that they are loved, deeply loved, and though I know that enforcing rules, teaching them how to obey, and teaching them the consequences of disobedience are all extremely important, this part of the parents' job is the hardest. It comes with no immediate reward. It usually comes with tears. Instead of instant gratification, this kind of love won't reveal its true value for a long time, maybe years, and even then, it won't be obvious that the end result has anything to do with this kind of love.

When I get into dictator-mode, I pray, hard, that I'll be able to rein myself in. And even when I'm not in dictator-mode but rightfully expecting obedience, I also pray that another part of love - grace and mercy - will step up on occasion, because while obedience is necessary, giving grace and mercy is crucial. How else do we learn God's forgiveness and grace except to be given it as well?

I'm glad God's mercies are new every morning, and I hope that mine can be, too.