Honey, you’re ruining our daughter

Tonight I’m in my usual spot in the house: the kitchen, and in the living room are various noises that I’ve become accustomed to over the years: play.  Dad and daughter, messing around.  Tonight I stop and enjoy it.  I realize that not every girl is growing up like this.  (Sorry, Dad, but I didn’t grow up like this either.)  My husband is one of those guys who could seem almost too good to be true, but he’s the real deal.  When the kids were born, he was the one who took the 11 PM-5 AM shift.   Having a knack for babies and selfless about letting me get sleep, he bonded with those kids thoroughly.  As they got older, he changed as many diapers as I did, had tea parties with our daughter as well as played catch with our sons and now, even though our daughter is older, he still knows how to play.  And she loves every minute of it.

She very much enjoys pointing out his big nose, wrestling away his hats, snuggling on the couch taking video selfies while impersonating each other, talking with the tongue on the roof of their mouths (this gets old for the listener when they do this on long car rides).  He tries to “eat” her hair, she unbuttons his vest as he’s trying to rush out the door, they chase each other and hide their slippers.  Son One, in a fit of maturity one day, declared their behavior “stupid” but we all knew he did the same thing with his dad on numerous occasions.  Son Two shakes his head in wonderment that they could be having so much fun, but he has his own ways of messing with his dad.

summer 2013 009

Of course father and daughter have more serious times too, where he addresses issues of behavior and/or maturity with her, orders her to eat fruit and confiscates clothes she leaves lying on the bathroom floor.  For her part, she helps him organize his office, does light data entry for him and maybe most importantly, gives sage and welcome advice when birthday or Christmas shopping for mom.

Statistics and professionals who study familial relationships report that girls who have fathers who are involved with their lives are much more likely to stay in school and attempt college.  They have fewer eating disorders, are less likely to use drugs or alcohol and have healthier relationships with men, from friends to employers. Daughters who feel connected to their dads have fewer instances of body dissatisfaction, low self-esteem, & emotional problems.  That all sounds like the kind of result I’d like my daughter to have but I wonder if somehow she’s at a disadvantage.

Someday when she’s in her dorm and her peers are ragging on their folks, she won’t be able to chime in.  When a friend makes a number of bad choices with boyfriends because she’s searching for a male to love her, my daughter will be perplexed.  Listening to a colleague struggle with insecurity with the male boss, always second guessing his words, my daughter will wonder at her lack of confidence.  Isn’t it great?  Having empathy can be a wonderful and beautiful gift to a friend, but this is one area that I want my daughter to remain ignorant.

So, when it’s bedtime and I’d rather she be settling down, quieting herself for sleep, I’ll keep quiet as dad does silly things with her.  When she was not quite 2, she once grabbed his face with both hands and in all seriousness said, “I be mad with you!”  We died laughing.  Well, it’s 11 years later and she still grabs his face and cracks him up.  Inside, I say to myself, “I can’t be mad with either of you!”

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Can we “play well with others”?

Remember those teacher comments on your elementary school report cards?  Your parents loved to see “a pleasure to have in class” but that is an individual accolade.  “Plays well with others” shows you know how to interact with others which is a super important skill to have.  We live with all sorts of people who land somewhere on the continuum of being able to easily interact with people to those who more closely resemble Homer Simpson falling down a hill.  (Duh!, ugh! doh!)

“We are only successful if those around us are successful,”  rings true in so many arenas, especially the work world, yet some folks have a hard time embracing it.  Lately I’ve be made aware and reminded of some women who don’t want to share people as friends or celebrate when a peer succeeds.  I’ve been known to not talk about an accomplishment with certain women because they’re more likely to be miffed or fake-happy than to give me a hearty congratulations.  Other women make their poor friends “choose” between them and another friend when that friend offends them.  Seriously? Are our hearts not wide enough, our lives not full enough, our selves not confident enough to take joy in someone else?  This grieves me.

How do we define success?  Is it only what we accomplish?  Is it about our bank account?  A truly grounded person might be more inclined to point at a mature, self-less individual who lives to lift up another.  Those that are worried about making sure others know how great they are might be missing more than they realize.  Personally, someone who wants to hog the limelight is the least attractive in the room.  I’m drawn to the person who is interested in others, who asks good questions and genuinely listens to the answers; someone who might have a lovely resume but instead demonstrates qualities of concern and care for others.

And yet today, we’re awfully interested in ourselves.  I’m no different, most days, but I’m striving.   My good friend says it like this: I think it starts by cultivating a life focused wrongly on self.  It’s the Me Show starring ME.  We have forgotten how to celebrate with our neighbor who is going to Disney Land because we’re sad that our vacation’s highlight is a trip to the library.  No fair!  We don’t get out the poppers and bake a cake for one another enough because it’s all about us.  We need to learn how to be glad for each other while still rejoicing in the way God enriched our life.

My husband likes to end the day with a question for himself, “Have I blessed anyone today?”  This question alone allows for a stance of selflessness.  Each day, he’s looking for small ways to bless other people and every day, whether he realizes it or not, he does.  A full, rich and successful life is not the ME show.  Rather, it’s a life lived with such gratitude and others’ focus that we can celebrate with others as God blesses us each in the way He’s pre-ordained.  I would say that that being concerned about blessing others and celebrating them is one of the most loving way to play well with others.

Atticus still gets it right

My 10th graders and I just finished reading To Kill a Mockingbird.  It was their first read, my 7th or 8th….and it doesn’t get old.  Some say it’s a civil rights novel; others know it’s way more than that.  When a novel is written that well, you can glean out of it for years. That’s what I’m doing today.  I’m thinking of the people who could benefit from being reminded of Atticus’s advice, and that is to try walking in someone else’s shoes for awhile.  Oh how much better our interactions would be if we try to imagine what a situation is like from their point of view.

If you’ve read the book, you might remember that feisty Scout could scrap with the best of them.  The nanny/maid Calpurnia was too strict with her, her new teacher Miss Caroline was mad that she came to school already knowing how to read, her brother Jem didn’t want her hanging around him at recess and Walter Cunningham got her in trouble at school so she shoved his face in the dirt at her first opportunity.    Life is rough for a 6 year old.  So, she pours out her troubles to her wise and gentle father who listens quietly and doesn’t reproach her.

I know a few people right now who are facing a relational conflict.  I bet they wouldn’t mind a turn on that swing, getting kind advice from a man known to millions as calm-headed and wise.  Thank goodness we can be reminded of what Atticus told Scout that day – and spent the novel trying to teach his kids – if you only try to think of what the other person is experiencing, you might not be so upset.  It’s hard for us to do that.  Don’t we think we’re always right?  How could there possibly be another way to look at it, after all?

Last month I was in a crowded Aeropostle, squeezing my way through a narrow gap to get a different size shirt for my daughter.  I had been shopping too long, was too warm, felt light-headed and thanks to low blood pressure, kept having to take deep breaths.  Those breaths sound like irritated sighs apparently, b/c I heaved in a good amount of air just as I was squeezing by a mom and daughter, stroller in tow.  The older woman gave me quite an acidic, dirty look.  I so wanted to say, “Lady, don’t assume my breathing has anything to do with you. (way to assume the worst, btw!)”  But it’s not so easy to explain an odd health issue like I have, in a crowded store at Christmas time,  so I let her think what she wanted to think.

I’m not always good at this but I try to remind myself that in their shoes, things undeniably look different.  And most often, people’s responses to us have less to do with us and more to do with them.  (Glass half empty, anyone?)   My husband is particularly good at slowing down, stopping to think, giving the other the benefit of the doubt – and believing that something else might be going on that is affecting things.  I think he and Atticus would have been great friends.  Meanwhile, I still have plenty of Scout moments where people just don’t make sense, life seems unfair and I need a calm and patient listener.  Thankfully, I’m reminded again to practice walking in another’s shoes and hopefully, I can play ‘Atticus’ to someone else who’s tempted to rub someone’s face in the proverbial dirt.

The silver lining of a crisis

No one likes to get a phone call that someone they love is hurt or sick or somehow is in sharp need but on Saturday, that’s what happened.  Son One, living more than 2500 miles away was in the ER and darn if those miles didn’t feel even longer than usual.  He was one sick kid, but thankfully, he is doing well and on the road to recovery. Additionally, not long ago an email landed in my inbox about the threat of demise of an organization I’ve come to love.  The heart sinks when we get news like this.  However, I’m not one to freak out, but instead I’ve learned to watch.  It didn’t take long and I wasn’t disappointed.

Every crisis has a silver lining and it’s been wonderful to point to it this week.  When Son One was out of it and waiting for the first responders, a kind woman dropped what she was doing to come and sit with him.  His grandpa followed the ambulance and was a calming, loving presence in the hospital and his watchful companion the rest of the day.  Six hours away his future mother-in-law prayed.  His aunt picked up his prescription, bought soup and juice and she and his uncle were kind and solicitous in every way.  Others checked in on him, one even bringing him a meal.

The weakened organization just needed to wave the flag of distress and creative, energetic and industrious people came out of the woodwork.  Meetings were set, minds were melded…new energy was infused.  It was said, “I’m sorry it took a crisis….” and so am I, but isn’t this silver lining lovely? It took this crisis for others to ask, “How can I be used?” Now we feel hope and are genuinely anticipating the future and all it holds.

Both situations have shown how crises aren’t all bad.  Yes, it’s sad that it takes a crisis to rally people, but it also shows how good people really are.  They want to help, pitch in, pray…anything to bless others.  Sometimes we don’t ask early enough but when we have no other choice, we see the very best in them.  This is when we see people and situations with fresh eyes.  My son noted that the first responders were clearly trained to calm – which is exactly what is needed at times like those.  I think we all could benefit from that.  Keeping calm, and looking for opportunities to use our skills in whatever way we can.  Then later we can thank God for those silver linings which most assuredly are there.