Letters to Ivan

On Raising Extroverts

A lot of life and love wonderfully fill my house. The older kids imagine, experience, and articulate continually. Looking at a brontosaurus toy, little girl named it, “Giraffe-y Dinosaur.” She learns words and then cherishes the objects: “milk-y bottle,” “blankie,” “Mama-y.” Everything ends in an -y. When she cannot talk to me about her things, she sings at the top of her voice or babbles to her baby doll-y. She takes after her older brothers, who seem to never stop talking. They tell silly stories, plot their next adventure or building project, disagree and try to persuade or out-talk the other. For example, yesterday second son was giving “tickets” to eldest son for some imaginary infraction. “I am sending them all to your mail box,” he announced. Without missing a beat, eldest son replied, ” I guess I have a bunch of junk mail, then.” Even baby boy has added to his repertoire of brilliant smiles and coos, since he now waves with big arm sweeps and finger movements that bring joy to us all. A recent visitor noted the kids’ talkative disposition and ease in interacting with adults. Looking at my quietly-disposed husband and me, he said, “you are raising a gang of extroverts.” Indeed, it does feel that way!

Two days ago, second son excitedly told my husband of a time in the future when they would be in a “Daddy’s Club” together. Naming his two brothers, his dad, and himself, he rejoiced that they could all one day be daddies. He made a side note that little girl and Mama could have their own “Mama’s Club.” His love for family makes me think I am doing something right.

Alongside my many mothering failures, I also learn how to walk my precious little ones through challenges. One saying goes something like, “Give a hungry man a fish, and he will be hungry tomorrow. Teach him how to fish, and he will never be hungry again.” I apply this to mothering, making my primary role “enabler.” I would rather my kids learn and choose wisdom, than they act well or play nice when I am present to enforce it. I would rather they make little mistakes now and learn their limitations (sleep is a necessary evil!). Yes, I do give them the “materials” with which to encounter reality. This means providing basic facts, explaining how to live out Judeo-Christian morality and the reasons for it, and inculcating logic. But a lot of learning results from their own discovery or thinking. In their quest for the good, the true, and the beautiful, then, I suppose it is no surprise that so much life happens within these four walls.

Letters to Ivan

Stories

A glimpse of our life

Tired after two nights of little sleep, I napped for 2 hours instead of making dinner and completing other chores. This means that the late afternoon looked rather comical. Amidst carpet cleaning Little Girl’s latest accident, flattening a child’s treasured piece of now-crumpled paper, rescuing a miniature dinosaur from inside a pop-up toy, and reading a riveting chapter in The Silver Chair (the beautiful lady is about to reveal her true, ugly character!), I need to make dinner. This life is crazy beautiful.

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Recent quotes and conversations

Eldest Son: “Were you ever President?”

Mama: “No, I was not ever President.”

Second Son: “Yes, yes you were. I remember when you were Pregnant.”

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A plane flies by and I hear the questions, “Are jets faster than planes?” and “Why are they faster?” and “What is the fastest object?” Oh, for that physics class I never took!

“Hmm,” I respond, “Maybe there is a supersonic something, or maybe a missile (???), or maybe we should do some research at the library.”

“Oh! I know!” my eldest exclaims, “Jesus is the fastest!” The perennial “correct” Sunday school answer 🙂

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My three-year-old son is a maturing protector who schemes to place fire ants and thistles around our home so that any robbers would be first deterred and then found out by their cries of pain. “What do fire ants do?” one interested listener inquired. “Spit fire,” my son replied.

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Eldest son: “Mama, are we rich because there are four of us kids?”

Mama: “Yes, son, we are rich.”

Letters to Ivan

A little girl with open arms

Little girl speaks more everyday, the latest being, “eat birthday cake!” She very recently progressed from repeating individual words, my favorite being “tea cup,” to four and five-word sentences. Her favorite phrase, however, consists of two words, “Oh, dear!” Yogurt on her finger evokes an “Oh, dear!” She knocks a bottle to the ground and with crocodile tears welling up and overflowing her eyes, exclaims “Oh, dear!”

She remains extremely particular. Before the night’s adieu, animal friends, water bottle, and any book that she can spy must assume their “proper” places on the bed. Seeing the closet door ajar, she points and says “shut it,” and then worriedly stares at her two baby dolls who have slid a few inches down from their placement on the rocking chair. I tie a blanket seat belt around them. “Safe!” she sighs and settles under her blanket, with curls framing her head on the pillow. A farewell wave looks akin to a royal dismissal. Oh dear, indeed!

The next day she said “Hug, Mama, hug?” with arms stretched open as I knelt on the floor. “Yes, Sweetie, Mama wants a hug.” “Daddy?” “Yes! Daddy too.” She runs to him shyly and embraces his calves.

“Brothers?” she then asks with a twinkle in her eye that bespeaks the delight of giving. “Yes, your brothers would like a hug.” A beautiful bundle of particularity, emotion, and love runs down the hall with arms flung wide, ready to give, and receive, her brothers.

Her unfettered affection and my memories collide, reminding me that giving and sharing require open hands and open arms that make one vulnerable and create the possibility of rejection. I remember Jesus, who through His great love for us stretched out his arms on the cross. Not everyone accepts His offer of the forgiveness of sin; not everyone wants Him.

In The Four Loves, C.S. Lewis wrote, “To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly be broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket – safe, dark, motionless, airless – it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. The alternative to tragedy, or at least to the risk of tragedy, is damnation. The only place outside Heaven where you can be perfectly safe from all the dangers and perturbations of love is Hell.”

We can choose to be safe, denying our need for love and rejecting the greatest act of love. Or, we can open ourselves to life’s biggest joys and greatest hurts, and humbly accept Christ’s work on our behalf. I choose to be vulnerable, for God is powerful enough to work all things, even hard and hurtful things, together for good.

Letters to Ivan · Reorienting Myself

Examining the Heart

Last week my eldest very seriously announced to me, “Mama, I have one problem in my life.” “Son,” I said, “Please tell me about your problem.” “Well, I love Jesus a lot. But I love people the same amount.” My son’s awareness of his own heart and the need he felt to love God more without knowing how encouraged my own self-examination. Is my “one problem in life” needing to love God more? Do I prioritize this goal above house projects, mothering goals, and career aspirations? With a sickening feeling, I confess that I do not. Lord, please forgive me and help me to put you first.

 

Letters to Ivan

Bad Guys

I cannot imagine a house without “bad guys,” those animals, monsters, or people against whom my older boys defend us at any given moment. They perpetually create some adversary in their imaginations and BAM! away they go, fighting to protect their sister and me. The normalcy of this type of play manifested itself two days ago when my not-yet-two-year-old daughter picked up a Lincoln Log, shook it at the floor, and made shooting sounds. She then looked at me with her toothy smile and said, “bad guy!” Oh my.

My second son was sharing his protective plans with me when his older brother said, “We are all bad guys,” and then proceeded to name each of us. “All of our hearts are bad,” he continued, “and we all need them fixed.” I smiled as my telling of Solzhenitsyn’s lesson of the line between good and evil running through every human heart re-surfaced. We are all bad – we all have a sin problem – and we all need a savior. There are no good guys, just saved ones.

Thankfully this younger brother is beginning to understand. He prayed before dinner, “Heavenly Father, thank you for every person in my family. Would you be with us, and would you also be with enemies that I do not like but get to love? Amen.” We are one step closer to loving our enemies and praying for those who persecute us.