What’s wrong with bullies?

screechThat’s what my 13 year old wants to know.  He came home in tears yesterday.  He explained what had happened at school and then asked if he could write on his blog instead of practicing the piano.  The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.  I knew that if I was dying to get something out in writing, I would not be able to focus on anything else until I had.  Instead of relaying what happened, I’ll let you read it yourself.  This is what he had to say about the situation:

http://lifeaccordingtojake.weebly.com/

My son has dealt with his share of “bullying” through the years.  I use bullying in quotes, because a lot of it is just the result of people saying stupid things…not intending to be hurtful.  Most of it has been because of his size.  He’s small for his age — he’s always lagged about 2 years behind his peers.  He’s starting to catch up, but people have always made comments.  Even grown ups.  I remember once when he was six, I met a friend of a friend at a playgroup outing.  Jake was standing next to me and the woman asked me, “Oh, is your son three?”.   “No, I replied…he’s six”.  Her response floored me:  “Oh wow…he’s so small.  What’s wrong with him?”  She was genuinely curious to know why he was so small.  But, she obviously had no filter and I was way past worrying about people’s feelings when it came to this issue.  “Nothing”, I said.  “His ears work perfectly fine, too”.  And, that was way nicer than the “Nothing, but clearly something is wrong with you” reply that I wanted to give.  She was clearly embarrassed, and she should have been.  I hope she learned her lesson.  And, by the way, it’s not just small kids who deal with this ignorance.  I have a friend whose son looked three years old when he was one.  He didn’t walk yet and certainly didn’t talk.  And, people constantly were wondering if he was “slow”.  Contrast that with my 12 pound one-year-old who was walking and that freaked people out, too.   The point is, you can’t judge a book by it’s cover.  And, kids come in all shapes and sizes…it’s best not to try and guess how old they are.  Just ask the child, “how old are you?” and be done with it.

Truth be told, my son was pre-mature and born with a heart defect.  Both of which contribute to his small size.  But, I don’t like to use that as an excuse because it makes no difference.  Nor does it change anything.  I don’t think people should have to make excuses for how they look.  My friend who had the giant one year old didn’t say, “Well, he was full term…”  Now, when Jake was younger, he sort of had a preemie “look” about him and I would often tell people that he was 7 weeks early. When I was feeling especially feisty  I would deliberately try to make people feel stupid for their insensitive comments by telling them that he’d had 4 heart surgeries by the time he was 8 months old.   But, he’s 13 now.  He leads a normal, healthy life.  He shouldn’t have to defend his stature in that way.  It’s not like his dad and I are big people.  Part of it is his genes.  And, I maintain that it doesn’t matter and you can’t change it anyway so just let it roll off your back. And, he has done that.  Even when presented with the opportunity to take growth hormone, he declined because he was, in his words, the way God intended him to be.  (Now, in his case, the growth hormone was not because he has a deficiency…it was simply going to help him get to his adult height quicker, not give him more height.  So, this is not a commentary on people who choose that for their child).

The other contributor to the “bullying” is that he marches to the beat of his own drum.  He’s not afraid to be who he is.  He spent an entire year in a Scooby Doo costume.  When you are 6, people don’t really make a big deal out of it though.  When he was in 3rd grade, he played Wolfgang A. Whale in “A Whale of a Tale” and insisted on wearing a Mozart wig.  It was perfect for the role (and if you really know Jake, it was just perfect in general).  He continued to wear it after the play as well….once donning it for a piano recital.  It was just HIM and it was refreshing to see a kid just embrace his quirkiness.

Oh and then there’s the drama thing.  People tend to lump men who act into one category:  Gay.  Some of them are, yes.  But, take a look at some of Hollywood’s leading actors and you will see a much different picture.  George Clooney.  Sean Connery.  Brad Pitt.  Leonardo DiCaprio.  These are men who undoubtedly were teased for being gay at some point in their lives.  And, they aren’t.  But, it brings up a point that Jake himself made a couple of years ago:  Who cares?  Why is calling somebody “gay” an insult, he wondered?  It should be as benign as being heterosexual.  He’s right.

Fifth grade brought a new level of bullying (notice the quotes are gone).  Mama Bear had to go grizzly when a kid in Jake’s class started calling him a midget and gay.  It’s hate speech, plain and simple.  And, luckily, the administration handled it swiftly.  And, things seemed to tame down as he got to 6th grade and started to find his own niche.  Admittedly, he doesn’t run around with the “popular” crowd, but that doesn’t bother him. He came home last year and asked me why popular kids were (air-quotes) popular when lots of people didn’t actually like them.  Great question, right?  I still wonder that.

And now, here we are again.  Yesterday, he threw his hat across the room and said he wasn’t wearing it again.  I told him that just means the bullies win.  If you want to wear it, I told him, wear it.  Those people don’t define you. Them telling you that you look stupid does not make it so.  Don’t give them power because these are people who, if they don’t have your hat to make fun of, they will find something else.  And if they see that,even after yesterday, you are wearing it….they will move on to something else.  Bullies only attack people they perceive to be weak.  When you show them you aren’t weak, they will lose interest.  But, sometimes it takes a while.

I promised him that this won’t last forever.  I told him to focus on the people who thought the hat was cool….because when I asked him who they were, it turns out they were his friends.  He got the point.  I told him that so many kids his age are afraid to express themselves because they are desperate to “fit in” and that the truth is, when you are 13, everyone questions whether or not they fit in.  And, yes…I told him that he can’t hit someone with his backpack because even though it felt good and the kid deserved it, it’s not worth getting into trouble over.

And intellectually, he gets all that. But, he doesn’t understand why people are deliberately mean.  And, I don’t either.  It’s hard not to care about this stuff when you have a heart of gold and you genuinely like people.  It’s easy to SAY to just ignore them and let it roll off your back, but it’s often hard not to believe the things people say.

On Saturday, we were walking around DC on inauguration weekend and Jake was wearing his hat.  He got lots of positive comments from complete strangers on it.  And, at one point, we happened upon the Reverend Jessie Jackson who shook our hands and commented on the hat.  I reminded him of these things. I told him to hold his head high and be himself.

Today, I drove him to school rather than making him deal with the bus (although he was willing to).  And, I was super proud of him as he walked in to the school with that Screech hat on, not because he was being combative, but because he is okay with who he is.

He’s showing a ton of character and courage.  But, as his mom, I wish he didn’t have to.

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Life according to Jake

It’s been hard having a 13 year old these past few days.  In the past, I’ve been able to avoid talking about national tragedies by avoiding turning on the television.  I remember being so grateful that he was only 2 on 9/11 because I had no idea what I would have said to him.

Then, Friday happened and I had no idea what to say to him.  But, I had to say something.  I quickly realized that you don’t have to have an answer about “why?”, but the most important thing to do is listen and encourage them to talk about their feelings.  And, as we talked, I found that my sweet son was being as comforting to me as I was trying to be to him.

I was trying to explain to him about how I react to things —  I told him about a character in The Secret Life of Bees that I relate to.  May Boatright is a complicated personality. Highly sensitive to the pain of others, she carries the weight of the world in her soul.  She built a wailing wall in her backyard and goes there when she is upset.  And then I told him that I often joke that I need a wailing wall of my own in the backyard.

He looked at me and said, “Mom, you don’t need to build a wailing wall.  You have one right here”, and he patted his chest.  “God knows what’s in your heart”.

Tears filled my eyes as I looked at this child, who has no idea how wise he is, even though sometimes he still puts his pants on backwards.  I thanked him and told him that this was a conversation I will never forget.

I’ve said it before….I take no credit for how awesome he is.  But, I do like to share the insights he has.  Usually they are funny and light-hearted.  Today, I hope his wise words can bring someone else comfort as well.

Feel free to use this post as your own wailing wall.  My son and I would be privileged to join you in prayer for everyone affected by the Newtown shooting.  And, that means everyone.

wailing wall

My God is bigger than that

The emotions are riding high in light of what has happened in Newtown, CT. We all have a lot of opinions about a lot of different things. It seems the only thing that we aren’t divided on is our devastation over the loss of innocent lives.

I’m not here to rant about gun control or mental health…although I do have strong opinions about those things. Among all of the things that people are debating right now, in light of the tragedy, this is the thing that has me the most riled up:

This is one of the most offensive things I have ever seen. And to be clear, I am a Christian.

The argument that the absence an official school prayer time would indirectly (or directly) correlate with a slaughter in an elementary school is one of the most ridiculous things I’ve ever heard. And, again…I am a Christian.

One of the things I love to do when studying the Bible is to keep an on-going list of God’s attributes as I’m studying a passage. Doing this helps me understand God’s overall character. Understanding God’s character helps me identify when His character is being portrayed falsely. Here is a partial list of the attributes that I’ve listed in my Bible:

Creator
Good
Powerful
Wise
Loving
Omnipotent
Omnipresent
Graceful
Sovereign
Joyful
Forgiving
Truthful
Eternal
Unchanging
Glorious
Faithful
Holy

For the purposes of this post, I want to focus on “omnipresent”.

First, let’s define it:

om·ni·pres·ent

/ˌämnəˈpreznt/

Adjective
  1. (of God) Present everywhere at the same time.
  2. Widely or constantly encountered; common or widespread: “the omnipresent threat of natural disasters”.

As it relates to God, it means this is the attribute of God by which He fills the universe in all its parts and is present everywhere at once. Not a part, but the whole of God is present in every place.

Now, let’s support it with Scripture:

If I ascend to heaven, you are there!
If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there!
(Psalm 139:8 ESV)

“Am I a God at hand, declares the LORD, and not a God far away? Can a man hide himself in secret places so that I cannot see him? declares the LORD. Do I not fill heaven and earth? declares the LORD.
(Jeremiah 23:23-24 ESV)

“But will God indeed dwell on the earth? Behold, heaven and the highest heaven cannot contain you; how much less this house that I have built!
(1 Kings 8:27 ESV)

…that they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us,
(Acts 17:27 ESV)

He who descended is the one who also ascended far above all the heavens, that he might fill all things.
(Ephesians 4:10 ESV)

This is a small list, but the conclusion is that, in the simplest terms, there is no place to go where God is not already there.

And, then there is the Christmas story…

“Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son,
and they shall call his name Immanuel”
(which means, God with us).
(Matthew 1:23 ESV)

Christians believe that this is fulfillment of the prophesy laid out in Isaiah:

Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.
(Isaiah 7:14 ESV)

The point is this: If you believe God is omnipresent, then you believe God is everywhere. Not everywhere except public schools. He’s not the big bad wolf who is stopped by brick.

I realize that this opens up questions. Questions like, “if God is everywhere, why did this happen”. It’s another blog post (or several) all-together, but I feel like I need to at least address it. I only wish I had a compelling answer. The only thing I can say for sure is that in His mercy and grace and love, God gives us free will. We are not puppets in a grand performance. And, there is unspeakable evil in our broken world. Hence, our desperate need for a Savior. The hope that I personally have is summed up in Revelation 22:20 and is the prayer that I always pray when I am distraught:

He who testifies to these things says, “Surely I am coming soon.” Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!

(Revelation 22:20 ESV)

Back to the t-shirt above. When I see that, I automatically think that whoever believes that doesn’t know the true character of God. To say that God is not in schools is to believe that he is NOT omnipresent.

I’m not trying to be judgmental, although I realize I probably sound that way –and maybe I actually am. But, I’m really trying to point out that when people know you are a Christian, they are watching and listening to what you do and say. And, when you say that God is being controlled by humans, it diminishes your witness.

Finally, there are a lot of people who are sincerely asking the question that the t-shirt asks. Christian, is that the answer you really think that God would give to somebody who is hurting?

Happy Constitution Day

You did know that the Constitution was signed on September 17th, didn’t you?

It’s also Jake’s 13th birthday.  He wasn’t supposed to arrive on this day.  I had other plans.  You see, on September 17th, 1999, I was only 32.5 weeks pregnant and was supposed to be having a baby shower.  Honestly though, nothing had gone according to plan up to that point, (nor has it since), so I can’t say that it was all that surprising.  And in retrospect, it was a perfect day for Jake, lover of all things history, to come into the world.

I really wasn’t going to post anything today, as I got the sap out in Friday’s entry.  And, I think it’s probably clear how much I adore my son since I talk about him every so often.  But, then my friends started wishing him a “Happy Birthday” on Facebook and one pointed out that this is the anniversary of me becoming and mommy….and another thanked him for being born so that she and I could be friends.  And, then I read the list of people that were “liking” and commenting and realized that so many of them have come into my life because I had a baby on September 17th, 1999.  This list of people, many of whom were strangers 14 years ago, are now people I cannot imagine my life without.  Some of them I met on the internet,  in virtual “playgroups”, some of them are parents of his friends who have become some of my closest friends, some of them are his teachers and mentors and pastors.  Some are even relatively new friends who have still had a major impact on his life.  Each one has played a vital role in his life — and mine.

And then there are the people who were there before he was born.  The people who knew us before we ever decided to be parents.  The people who loved us and helped make us the people we were on September 17, 1999 when this new little life came into the world.  They are the people who took time on their lunch hours to bring me food and visit me as I endured weeks of bed-rest.  And, the real saints who spent their vacations visiting me and keeping me company during that time.  They helped us move into a new house in August…in Phoenix.  They filled our hospital room with so many flowers after Jake was born that we began to give them to other new mommies in the pod.  They welcomed him and have loved him and cherished him almost as much as we do.

And then there are people who aren’t here anymore.  Relatives who never even got to meet him, but who I see everyday in his face.  Others who did get to spend some time with him, but who only live on in stories that he loves to hear about them.  And Julie.  His auntie, not by blood, but certainly by love…who was the first non-relative to visit us in the hospital and who I wish so badly could have been here to teach him all the really fun stuff.  She would have loved his sense of humor.

Indeed, it takes a village to raise a child.  I’m grateful beyond words for our village.  I know that you know who you are, if you are reading this.  Thank you for being there for us as parents…and for him…for loving him and encouraging him and for being part of his story so far.  You’ve made a difference in his life.  As I told another friend of mine today….he’s your kiddo, too.   And, I’m glad because there’s no way we could have done this without you.

“I had such a good birthday, I’m going to have wrinkles from smiling so much.”

Teenage Dream

My son turns 13 on Monday.  In and of itself, this is unreal to me.  First of all, I still think I’m 28, so I am not old enough to have a 13 year old.  Secondly, my pregnancy (and the pregnancies that came before him) and the first year of his life were scary.  The fact that he had a first birthday was a miracle, so a 13th birthday is…well, a miracle.

My husband is a great dad.  He doesn’t always know it though.  He has no memory of actually living in the same house with his own father.  That is his story, but I say that to illustrate a point and that is that he didn’t always have a role model to learn from.  And, as all parents know, kids don’t come with instructions.  We quickly learned to hate parenting books (oh, now there’s an idea for a blog post) and we’ve made a lot of mistakes along the way.  Fortunately, I don’t think they have caused any real permanent damage.
Anyway, despite any insecurities my husband has about fatherhood, I am here to tell you that he is amazing.  And, here’s how I know:  we have a great kid.

Last night, we had Back to School night at Jake’s middle school.  One of the teachers asked us to write down one thing about our child that makes us smile.  Lloyd wrote about the joy that Jake displays on a regular basis.  He’s a joyful kid with a great attitude.  He loves life.  And, it’s true — he does.  People comment all the time about his infectious smile. Then this morning, somebody in my Facebook feed posted this quote:

Children learn to smile from their parents.

~Shinichi Suzuki

Now, I know that I can’t take credit for most of the awesome personality traits that my son has.  But, as I thought about that quote…I thought, “YES!  We can take some credit for that one!”.  We have always tried to maintain a happy household (even when there wasn’t a lot to smile about).  And, it shows in our son’s face.  If you had asked me before he was born what one trait I would want my child to have, I would have said that I wanted him to be happy.

Back to my husband and what a great dad he is.  He’s always made sure to carve out special one-on-one time to spend with Jake.  When we lived in Olympia, they would spend Saturday mornings going to Twister Donuts and then to the library.  Here in Maryland, they don’t have a regular routine, but they still regularly spend time together.  Jake will even speak up when he’s craving some Dad/Son time.  It can be anything from going to a Nationals game together to just hanging out at Game Stop. Despite all that, he’s been wanting to take Jake on a road trip….just the guys…for a while.

A few weeks ago, I realized that Jake’s birthday falls on Rosh Hashanah, which in Montgomery County is a school holiday.  Then, I heard Lloyd and Jake talking about wanting to go to the Baseball Hall of Fame someday…maybe when Ken Griffey Jr. is eligible for induction.  So I told Lloyd that he should take Jake there for his birthday weekend.  Just the two of them.

This afternoon, Lloyd picked Jake up early from school and told him they were headed to Cooperstown.  Jake was crying tears of happiness when he called me.  I’m not even going and I’m so excited for them that it gives me butterflies in my stomach.  Yes, I wish I was going, but I’m glad they are going together.  And, they’ll take lots of pictures and tell me all about it, but it will be something that only they share.  It’s something neither one of them will ever forget.  And, it is the perfect prologue to this new chapter in the Story of Us.

I am so proud of the kid that Jake is and the man that he is becoming.  And, I’m eternally grateful for Lloyd who is his greatest role model.  If Jake is half the man that his father is, he will be amazing.

Round 2 of the birthday celebration will be watching the Dodgers play the Nationals on Tuesday — and yes, I get to go to that!  🙂  Lloyd’s a lifelong Dodger fan, so it’s a bit of a rivalry in our house, but he also just bought Nationals season tickets, so we forgive him.

Please pass the Mother-of-the-Year Award

Anyone who’s a mother knows that when we publicly proclaim that we have earned the “mother-of-the-year” award, it’s likely that we have experienced an epic parenting fail.  And, let’s face it, we’re looking for some commiseration. (Wow.  Commiseration really is a word…I wasn’t sure.  Either that or the auto-correct gods are mocking me for trying to use big words.)  Anyway…it makes us feel better when others tell us how they’ve done something similar…or worse.  The truth is that most of the time, it’s usually nothing that is going to land our kids in therapy.  Most of us don’t post those things on Facebook.

At the end of the school year, my 12 year old had a culminating project in his Reading class.  It was one of those projects that just seemed doomed from the start.  He was in the middle of rehearsals for two different plays and worked really hard to get a head start on it.  I was proud of him for having the foresight to get ahead of it.  Then, he lost the folder that contained all of his research and drafts.  Incidentally, this portion of the project carried the most weight in his final grade.  I encouraged him to talk to his teacher and see what could be done.  This particular teacher is not especially gracious and they had a rocky start to the year.  He’d eventually won her over though and I know that she was aware that he was doing to the required work.  She agreed to let him stay after school to recreate the folder, which he did for several days.  He learned an important lesson around it all though — and that is that relationships are important.  Sometimes they are the most important when it comes to things like this.  I had tried to impress that upon him when he was having trouble getting along with this teacher.  It ended up being a blessing that this had happened because he was able to see it all play out. Well, then came the day to turn everything in.  It was a Friday.  He was finished with it and was so happy to finally be getting this thing out of his head.  He’d been wearing the jump-drive around his neck for days so that it wouldn’t get lost.

I dropped him off at school and headed to work.  I was the second one there and I remarked to my co-worker that I always have such high hopes for Fridays, but they rarely end up going the way I expect them to because inevitably something random comes up that I have to deal with.  Just then, the phone rang.  It was Jake.  He was in tears because he’d left his jump drive at home.  I wrote a quick email to my boss, telling him what happened and that I’d be back in an hour.  I quipped that they could leave the Mother of the Year award on my desk.  And when I got back, there actually was one on my desk.

Some people said that they wouldn’t have done it and that this was an important lesson for him to learn.  Lucky for him, those people aren’t his mother.  I knew how hard he’d worked.  I knew how devastated he was.  I knew that he was sorry.  Now was not the time to rub it in.  His grade depended on it and sometimes I think we just need to extend a little grace.  Although I did put a note in the envelope that read “Not Happy”, which kind of negates the grace thing, but I felt like he needed to know that this was a huge inconvenience to me.  I never once have held it over his head, but I do remind him regularly how important it is for him to be responsible, especially now that he’s almost…ahem….a teenager.  Mom isn’t always going to be there to bail him out.

These past two weeks, he’s taken part in a Counselor in Training program at the YMCA.  He’s been working with kindergartners.  He has always loved little kids and they love him too.  He’s just got a way with them.  One of the things that is nice about the program is that he earns Student Service Learning (SSL) hours, which are required for graduation in Maryland.  He has to have 75 to graduate and students can start earning them in 6th grade.  There is a special award for kids who have earned all of them while still in middle school and that’s a goal of his.  The hours he put in the last two weeks were going to get him really close to that goal.

As I was driving him to camp, I asked him if they were going to get the SSL forms today.  The blood drained out of his face as he remembered that he was supposed to print it out and fill it out to turn in today.  He begged me to go home and get it.  He could fill it out on the way back.

As hard as it was for me to do, I said no.  I reminded him that he came home from camp yesterday and basically did nothing but work on his fantasy football team and watch baseball all evening– which is fine.  It’s summer.  But, he knew that he had a responsibility.  And, I know that he genuinely forgot (the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree), but this was an instance where I wasn’t going to bail him out.  I told him he had to figure it out.  He needed to talk to his counselor and figure out what his options are.  He may miss out on those SSL hours.  It’s not the end of the world if he does.  There will be other opportunities to earn them.  I told him that I did my part — I signed him up for the camp, I paid for it and I got him there on time every day.  That was the extent of my responsibility.  He was mad.  He wouldn’t look at me when he got out of the car.  He didn’t tell me that he loved me back and slammed the door without saying goodbye.  It’s okay.  He can be mad.  I know he’s more mad at himself.

I wanted to rescue him.  My instinct was to rescue him.  But, that doesn’t teach him anything.  Sometimes, my job is to rescue him but at the end of the day, parenting is really about giving our kids the tools they need to rescue themselves.  Days like today are when the rubber meets the road.  And, I look forward to finding out how he went about dealing with it when I pick him up today.

On a somewhat related note, right before this happened, Jake was telling me about how he was being peer pressured to chew gum. He has braces now and knows that gum is off limits.  One of the things about having a kid with a black and white personality is that they usually will follow the rules, if someone else lays them out.  He told me that he knew I was serious by the “evil eye” I gave him when I told him that if he breaks anything because he’s eaten something he wasn’t supposed to, he will pay for the repair.  And, since he has no money, he’ll have to do it by doing the grossest chores I can come up with.  Then, he went on to say, “Don’t tell Dad, but I’m more afraid of you than him”.  He said it is because of the “look”.  I said, “surely your Dad has an evil eye, too”.  He replied, “Well, if he does have an evil eye, I’ve never seen it”.  I realized that when we got on the discussion of the SSL form, I was giving him that “look”, which he describes as wide eyed, eyebrows raised and serious.  I think it would scare me too.

So I think sometimes, we really do earn “Mother of the Year” (or at least, Mother of the Day) and my sense is that it isn’t always pleasant for anyone involved.

Happy Birthday America

It doesn’t get much better than spending the 4th in Our Nation’s Capitol. We are starting off with a baseball game then headed to see a friend at Walter Reed (seriously, thank a veteran today) and topping it off with watching fireworks over the Washington Monument. The only think that could possibly make it better is if we could sleep in our own bed tonight. But, I’m trying to stay positive and not complain. We are a million times better off than many because we live in this great country.

If spending the 4th in DC is on your bucket list, you always have a place to stay! Just make sure we have power first.

One last thing, get on over to the All-Star Ballot and vote #brycein12. Kid’s living the dream and making America’s favorite past-time a whole lot of fun to watch.

You named your baby “Derecho”?

The storm that came through the DC area on Friday night has a name.  It’s called a Derecho.  I had never heard of it.  It’s described as a widespread storm in which multiple bands of strong storms packing damaging winds move hundreds of miles. According to the National Weather Service Storm Prediction Center, their name comes from the Spanish word for “direct” or “straight ahead”, which is the way the storms typically move.

The heavy winds, typically upward of 60 mph (and I think we had 90 mph winds), come from downbursts in storm clouds, caused by differences in the heat and density of air within the storm systems.  There’s already a Wikipedia page for Friday’s storm and Capital Weather Gang is taking suggestions to name the historic storm. So far my favorite is Derecho en Fuego.  But, what will be very interesting is to see how many babies are born in say…..March or April who are named Derecho.  Or Derrick.  Or some other derivative of the name.

We are still without power in our neighborhood.  We went to the house yesterday as we wanted to check on things and water the outside plants since the water restriction had been lifted.  The house was stifling — 99 degrees inside.  It was starting to stink, so we emptied the remains of the refrigerator and freezer — only to discover that we’d forgotten to empty the ice maker when we left on Saturday and it had melted all over the floor.  The wood laminate floor, which will now likely sustain permanent damage.  But, that can be dealt with.

We drove around  the neighborhood a little, just amazed at the destruction.  Trees were uprooted everywhere.  Others had just snapped in two.  Some had landed on roofs and cars.  Others had miraculously not fallen on anything but the ground.  Electric lines were down everywhere.  We realized how lucky we are that the enormous tree in our backyard, which is in dire need of either cutting down or trimming back, was still standing.  A few branches had come down, but nothing had hit the house.  It made the potential damage to the kitchen floor seem like nothing.  And it is nothing in the whole scheme of things.  It might cost us some money, but that’s okay.  Our family is okay and that is the important thing.

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The power is starting to come back on, but people are growing weary and impatient.  And, I don’t blame them.  Not everyone is as lucky as we are to have a cool place to stay.  People blame the power companies.  And no…they are not perfect.  There are things that could be done to help prevent things like this, but they cost money and nobody wants to pay for them.  They also take time and people want instant gratification.  Trees could be cut back, but people fight that, too.  So there are no easy answers.

What I do know is that the crews are working hard.  Nobody is sitting in an air-conditioned room with their feet up on a desk, laughing at the misfortune of others and figuring out ways to prolong it.  And, crews are working round the clock to get the lights back on.  They’ve left their families in other states to come here — and it is a holiday week.  They are working in unbearable heat and then many of them go home to their own dark, hot houses.  Show them some respect.  If you come across them in your neighborhood, tell them thank you.  The system might be broken, but it’s not their fault.  They are hard workers, making an honest living for their families.

And in the midst of the frustration, we need to remember to take care of each other.  If your power comes back on, invite people over who you know don’t have power.  Even if you know that your friends and family without power are in a safe place, check on them anyway.  I can tell you that it’s not easy to be displaced from your home.  Just show them you care.  Be courteous on the roads.  Treat intersections without lights as four way stops.  I know this is DC, but give your horn a break for a few days.  Our nerves are all frazzled.  You’ll get where you are going, I promise.  Smile at someone today.  Even if you don’t feel like it.  They might really need it.  Actually, I know they need it.  We all need people to be kind and a little bit patient every day of the year.  A smile goes a long way, even when there isn’t a natural disaster to deal with.

And then, when the lights are all back on and our lives get back to normal….try to keep doing those things.  Just an idea.

Surprised by Grace

As you may have heard, we had quite a destructive storm come through the DC area last night. I’ve never experienced anything like it. Thanks to Capital Weather Gang, we had a heads up and they aren’t the guys who unnecessarily freak out. So, I knew when they said that this one was no joke, it was no joke. The storm came in and out quickly, but we lost power immediately. When we got up this morning, it looked like a tornado had gone through our neighborhood. We realized how lucky we were when we saw trees on house and cars. Still, we had no power and it was evident that it would not be coming on anytime soon.

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We decided to try and find a hotel. Unfortunately, the PGA AT&T Golf Tournament is taking place at Congressional Golf Course, which is right near our house and all of the hotels were full. We also have a dog, so we needed to find a place that was pet friendly. It turned out not to be easy to find a place that also had power. We decided to go for breakfast because our son was “famished”. I’ve never actually heard Mr. Picky Pants express hunger this way, so I knew we had a situation on our hands. We sat at breakfast and tried to figure out what to do. We considered sucking it up, but the heat index was expected to be near 110 today. I was nearing tears when we got a text from a guy that Lloyd knows from transportation circles. He said that they were leaving town for a week this afternoon and that we were welcome to stay at their house…which has power.

We were just beside ourselves. Lloyd has known this guy for a few years via work connections. I had met him once but his wife had never met us at all. And here they were, offering their home to us. Honestly, if I’d made a list of all of the people in the area that we know who would have reached out to us in that way, they probably wouldn’t have bee very high on the list. Not because they aren’t great people, but because we don’t have that kind of relationship with them….or so I thought.

This morning, as we were trying to formulate a plan, our 12 year old remarked that he wasn’t worried…he knew God would provide. And, we knew that too. But, we didn’t expect this kind of provision. And it reminded us that God is always going ahead of us, preparing a way. I am guilty of acknowledging that God is in control and still trying to be in control myself. That’s not to say that we don’t need to do leg work. We do. We can’t just sit sweltering in our house and expecting God to walk in the front door and give us the solution. But, in our diligence, we need to allow God to do what he’s going to do.

In the midst of all of this, we had found a hotel. It had availability for a couple of nights and took dogs. And we had the means to pay for it although it wasn’t something that was in our budget. I will admit that while I will gladly open my doors to anyone (and was upset that I didn’t have power and couldn’t help others!), I often struggle with accepting help from others. It’s probably a pride issue. Ok, it’s definitely a pride issue. And I had to fight the urge to just say “we’ve got it handled”. It would have been fine.

But I would not have been so surprised by grace. I would not have had the opportunity to get to know these people who are obviously worth knowing better. And I wouldn’t have the opportunity to say to our son “yes…you were right. God provided for us” — and he did it in such an unexpected way that we can only point to His grace. It wasn’t because of anything that we did.

And that is the gospel.

6th grade awards ceremony — or — OMG, I just seriously quoted George W. Bush

Today is the last day of school.  Actually, they haven’t actually done any work for the last couple of days, so it’s the last day they’ll watch movies all day.  This morning was the awards assembly.  As I sat there watching, I was an insecure 12 year old all over again.  And as the awards were being handed out, I remembered what it was like to wonder if you’re going to get an award and how it felt when you didn’t get the award you wanted.  And, as the kids cheered for each other (some more loudly than others), I remember how the dread of wondering if my peers would clap for me actually drowned out the elation of hearing my name called.  I always understood the academic awards.  They are based on performance in the classroom.  So, not getting an award for honor roll was my own deal, because I was perfectly capable (and believe me, I felt the sting of it when I didn’t get to wear a gold cord during graduation).  But, I remember wondering who the heck decided that so-and-so was the best citizen or the most enthusiastic or the hardest worker or the most dedicated.  And how on earth anyone can really display EVERY ONE OF THOSE traits in order to get the highest honor of all for Overall Achievement.

I also never understood the 100% Attendance Award.  What exactly is the achievement?  You didn’t get sick?  Or you did get sick, but you came to school anyway?  Believe me, I get the purpose of teaching children to be prompt and for school to be a priority because when they get to college and into the workforce, they need to have this core value.  But, it seems to me that the award would be most useful if it was given to kids who were not ever tardy instead of disqualifying them for being sick — and staying home, like they SHOULD DO when they are sick.  As this award was being handed out today, I made a comment that I hated this award.  The mom next to me agreed and said that she once knew somebody that was so desperate to have her child get that award that she sent the child to school with lice.  What core value is that instilling?

Perhaps I’m extra-sensitive about this subject because of my own son’s health issues.  It’s nearly impossible for him to never miss a day of school.  And, the award puts me on the defensive.  I really need to let it go.

As I watched, I decided that being the parent of a middle-schooler might actually be more stressful than being a middle-schooler, at least in this instance.  From where I was sitting, I felt more anxiety coming the from parents than from the kids.  As parents, we are carrying around the baggage from our own experiences as well as feeling anxious for our kids as we literally watch them pack their own proverbial bags.  We want our kids to do well — or more specifically, be recognized for doing well.

As I sat there and listened to the murmurings around me, I was a little amused by the whispered gasps of “I can’t believe (insert their child’s name here) didn’t get that award!”  and “she will be devastated if she doesn’t get (that specific) award” and “I can’t believe (so-and-so) got that award”.  And, the relief and pride when they did get *that award*.   And, the disappointment when they didn’t.

And yes…I will admit, I felt it.  I knew which award my son wanted, even though he hadn’t told me.  I watched him puff up and get excited as that specific teacher approached the podium to announce their choice for “most outstanding” in that particular class.  And, I watched him deflate a little when it was not his name that was called.  As a mother, your heart hurts when your child’s does.

From an adult perspective we all know (or we should realize) that the awards are subjective.  They don’t define who our children are.  They don’t define who they aren’t.  And the certainly don’t define who we are as their parents.  That’s not to say that we shouldn’t be bursting with pride when they are recognized for being outstanding at something specific.  Of course we should!  But, we should also realize that there are lots of kids who also would have been deserving of that same distinction.  Because the truth is that despite our best efforts, none of us is outstanding all the time.  Not even the kids who get the overall achievement award (just ask the kids who get bullied by those same kids).

The life lessons lay in how we deal with these types of situations.  If we are the recipient of the award, do we let it go to our heads?  If we got a citizenship award, are we going to rethink how we might treat others when the people who dole out the awards are not looking?  If we got the overall achievement award, are we going to step up our game and really take the award seriously and show everyone that they picked the right person?

If we don’t get the award, are we bitter?  Do we say “that person didn’t deserve it” as a way of making ourselves feel better?  Or do we simply realize that not everyone can get the award and not let it define us?

As parents, it’s a difficult line to walk — we don’t want to play them down, thereby devaluing the awards; but we also don’t want to put too much value in them, thereby deflating our kid’s confidence when they aren’t picked.  Instead we have to encourage them to try hard, do their best and maybe they’ll be recognized next time.  Or maybe they won’t.  That’s pretty much how life is anyway, right?  As nice as they are to get, none of these awards actually determine our success in life.  George W. Bush summed it up perfectly when he said this to a graduating class at Yale:

“To those of you who received honors, awards and distinctions, I say well done. And to the C students, I say you, too, can be president of the United States.”

Read that again.  Take it in.  It’s likely the only time I’ll quote GWB.

As my son was walking by me to go to his class he stopped for a second.  I said, “I’m sorry you didn’t get the _____ award”.  With a smile, he responded, “that’s okay.  I’m happy ______ got it.  He deserves it”.

And just like that, I was more proud of my kid than I ever would have been if he had a piece of paper saying he was outstanding at _____________.

First Day of 6th Grade – August 29, 2011

Last day of 6th Grade – June 12, 2012