The scrambled egg incident…

It was a few months ago when I was awoken by my five-year old whispering.  “Daddy, I’m hungry.  I want some scrambled eggs.”  To which I replied, “O.K. little man, I’ll get up and make you scrambled eggs.”  Without any hesitation he responded, “No, I want to make the eggs.”

I was surprised, to say the least.  However, perhaps I shouldn’t have been.  He and his younger brother have been assisting me in the kitchen for years now.  They know where many of our common ingredients and utensils are.  They have helped me add ingredients to bowls (including cracking eggs).  They have helped me mix ingredients.  They have assisted by putting oil in pans and pouring mixtures in to be cooked.  They have learned how to carefully stir,  flip and remove foods with the use of a spatula.  In retrospect, I had gradually taught them all of the parts required to prepare a few dishes on the stove top all by themselves.  Now, on this otherwise quite normal morning, my five-year old woke up and thought to himself, “I know how to make scrambled eggs all by myself.”  And that was exactly what he wanted to do. With just a bit of supervision and encouragement along the way.

I followed him downstairs and watched as he went to get the step stool and turn on the stove.  “This one?”  he asked as he reached for the knob to turn on the burner.  “Yes, that one.”  I responded.  “What number?  Here?”  he asked.  “Number 6.  Yes, that’s good.”  I answered.  He proceeded to take out the eggs and a bowl.  He added a little salt and water into the eggs and mixed them.  He poured some olive oil in the pan and then added the eggs.  He gently mixed the eggs around in the pan and flipped them over.  Finally,he got out a plate, put it next to the stove and scooped the eggs onto his plate.  I took a little taste of the eggs my little chef had prepared.  They were good.  He thought so too.

While this is not the first life skill our children have learned, this skill seems so…grown up.  In fact I know many adults who could not make scrambled eggs nearly as well as my little man.  Am I proud of him? Absolutely!  But as I think about the fact that he has been so well schooled in this skill, I find myself asking what other abilities I am instilling.  I am pretty sure that I have said this before, but I think it is worth saying again.  Our children are our apprentices in life.  They may not end up doing what we do for a living, but they are learning how to live through our raising of them.  Through our presence and our absence, through our intentional and unintentional influence, they are being shaped into their futures.  They will follow our lead or they will wander from the lack thereof.

My prayer is that just as my eldest has begun to learn the art of cookery, our children will grow in their capacity to practice their trust in God each day.   If the scrambled egg incident has taught me anything it is that a great way to lead them to this goal is to invite them to observe and then participate with me as I follow Jesus.   I can let them repeat after me as I pray and then ask them to offer their prayers.  I can invite them along as I help others and then encourage them to do the same in their own lives.  When they need to be forgiven I can share with them how much I love them and how much God loves them, and what He did for them in Christ, and then encourage them to do the same when others need forgiveness.  By inviting them to observe and then join me in trusting God, I may find myself waking up one day to one of our kids saying, “Daddy, I have a problem.  I don’t know how to solve it.  Will you come pray with me?”

our little echo box…

As I have mentioned before, our second son is our middle child.  And he is in many ways a classic Mr. Middle (I would like to take this moment to mention that both my wife and I are middle children…my wife much more classically so).  Mr. Middle was learning to talk when his elder brother was beginning a phase of fleeing into large crowds and wide open spaces.  These situations tended to evoke sharp outbursts from either or both of us parents.  There were many days filled with terror and/or frustration.  Those days were soon followed by many more days of embarrassment as our little Mr. Number Two quickly became our family echo box.  His first full sentence very well might have been “Come back here, right now!” (Yelled, of course, in a very stern voice at his older brother.) 

As he has aged Mr. Middle has added many more of our greatest hits to his collection of echoed phrases.   We are not prone to profanity, cursing or swearing , so we have not had to deal much if at all with vulgarity.  Nevertheless, it is a bit disconcerting when your three-year-old turns tyrannical in the midst of a morning temper tantrum, screaming, “Dadda, stop saying that!  I do NOT appreciate this!  That is NOT a good idea! Stop it, right now!”  While I want our children to learn to listen well and obey rules, I also want them to learn to respect authority and be respectful and respectable to others when they are in positions of authority. 

I doubt that our children would be able to eloquently articulate their philosophy of the role of authority in home and society.  But the echoes of my little Mr. Middle speak volumes.  And sad to say I don’t always like what I hear.  It’s not so much what I hear him saying (i.e. what I hear him echoing from my wife and myself ).  It is the tone he uses when he says what he says that bothers me. 

My wife likes to say that we are not raising children, rather we are raising future adults.  That serves as a reminder that how we treat them now will shape their understanding of who they are and how they are to relate to others.  If we show them that power and authority is grounded in yelling and anger then that will be their view of authority.  If we seek to lovingly show them the difference between right and wrong, and teach them the value of seeking and giving forgiveness, then I’d like to think their view of authority will be shaped in much more positive ways.  Rather than learning that orders must be barked and authority feared or detested, they will learn to practice wisdom, reason, self-sacrifice and reconciliation.  These are things worth respecting, not to mention marks of true influence and authority. 

I am happy to say that our little echo box doesn’t just go around all day yelling at his siblings (or his parents).  In fact the most common thing he says to me and the rest of our family is said in a whisper.  Every day (between 10 and 100 times a day) in a soft, sweet voice I hear something like this:

“Come here, Dadda.  I have a secret to tell you…I love you.  Was that a good secret?  Ok, now you tell me a secret.” 

I love you too, little man.

life in the prairie…

So a few days ago our family had the joy of celebrating our eldest’s 5th birthday.  Since my wife and I have been trying to be responsible adults recently, we have been limiting our spending and trying to increase our debt pay down rate.  After having successfully paid off our credit cards we are now working on the loan on our minivan (thank you very much, Dave Ramsey).   Anyway, we were wondering what to do for our eldest on his birthday.  We wanted to avoid the costs associated with throwing a big party and were not really wanting to accumulate tons more stuff to trip over in our home. 

A while back I determined that the perfect birthday treat would be to go bowling at an actual bowling alley.  He loves “playing bowling” on Wii whenever we go to my moms. Last year he got a couple home bowling sets, which we combined and put to good use in our basement.  One of his favorite videos is a Curious George DVD with an episode about bowling.  And I recalled the wonder in his eyes when he saw the bowling lanes at Pinstripes earlier this year (Pinstripes is an in door lawn bowling and bowling establishment…we attended my friend Joe’s birthday party in the lawn bowling section, much to my eldest’s disappointment).

We invited a few local friends and family to join us on this inaugural bowling outing, but due to the first snowfall of the year (a birthday treat in and of itself) it ended up being just our household.   We had a great time! Our 3 yr. old did something I thought impossible.  On one of his turns he actually rolled the ball so slowly that it stopped and then began to roll backwards.  The boys thoroughly enjoyed themselves.  Our eldest bowled a respectable 95 (not bad for a first time bowler…and one point better than my wife I might add).

So, here we are half a week after our mountain high bowling excursion and every day since then I have heard a soft, sweet, but insistent request to go bowling again.  He’ll say, “I want to go bowling.”  To which I’ll say something like, “No, it’s not time to go bowling, little man.  It’s time to clean up our toys, and then it’s lunch time, and then it’s time to take a rest.”  To which his reply is something like. “Ok…It’s time to clean up, and eat lunch and take a rest and then we go bowling.”  He really is quite persistent.

Every time he asks (or insists) that we go bowling it breaks my heart.  I would love to just drop everything and go bowling whenever he asks.  But it is practically not an opption schedule wise.  Not to mention it would end up nickel and diming our budget to debt (sorry, I like puns).   

As I look to the future I’m sure that there will be other “bowling outings” through the years; things that we can splurge on but can’t do every day.  These exciting mountain top occasions are great, but unfortunately most of life is lived in “the prairie.”  It is easy to feel like I am letting him down every time I say no to “playing bowling.”  However, I know that apart from the mountain high times my wife and I have instilled in him plenty of reasons to know we love him.  

He’s experienced that love through the 5 plus years of his life we have spent caring for him day and night.   It’s weighed out in the tens of thousands of pounds of diapers (and pull-ups) we’ve changed.   This love  has grown out of all of the funny faces we’ve made at each other…and the meals we’ve shared…and the games we’ve played…and bath times antics over the years.  He knows it from the worn and torn pages of the books we’ve read countless times.  It’s the product of all the prayers we’ve said together and all the songs we’ve sung before going to bed.   It is reinforced in our daily lives lived in “the prairie.”   And despite our shortcomings as parents or our limitations as responsible adults, he knows we love him even when we don’t go bowling.   On second thought, it is not all that unfortunate that our son’s knowledge of our love for him isn’t based solely on mountaintop experiences. 

Life in the prairie might not always be as fun and exciting (although it certainly can be a lot of fun), but when you come down off the mountain there is little better than taking a warm bubble bath and putting on  some Spiderman PJs, to cuddle up with mom or dad and read a few books before going to bed.  May God bless us with peace, joy and love no matter what our elevation in life.

Deep recall

I have been blessed with a wonderful family.  My wife and I celebrated 10 yrs of marriage this past summer.  In just a few days our eldest will turn 5.  Our middle (3yrs old) insists he wants to be the oldest and biggest and first and strongest…when it comes to pretty much everything.  Our youngest is just starting to get into the mix of it all.

So, our eldest is the first to do most stuff (as is I suppose the expected way of things).  Since he was 2 our eldest has been able to spell his name (a feat many adults have trouble with as his name is not too common).  We actually made up a cheer that we would chant in the car in order to help him learn how to spell his name.  I can still hear every time he spells his name that he is spelling it in rhythm with the cheer.

It reminds me of an experience in spelling I had as a young lad.  I remember learning a song as a child called I am a C-H-R-I-S-T-I-A-N.  The last line of the song says, “And I will L-I-V-E-  E-T-E-R-N-A-L-L-Y.”  Well the result was that as I grew up I always had to quickly sing the last line of that song to myself if I was trying to spell the word “eternally.”  Like my son and his name cheer I could not think of the word outside of the context in which it was learned.  I am calling this kind of association a “deep recall.” While I am no longer bound to that sing-songy mental spellcheck, I do get transported back to childhood chapels every time I think of that song.

So this begs the question in my mind:  What kinds of deep recalls are my wife and I instilling in the minds of our children?  What automatic associations are they going to have with certain words…with certain practices…with certain places?  Will they like being in Christian community…singing, reading, praying, etc?  What kind of humor are we encouraging or supporting?  What kinds of behaviors are they picking up from us?

Our children are very different and yet it seems to me that much of who each one is becoming is just a variation or magnification of who we are around them.  They are learning who to be from us for better or worse, regardless of our intentions.  They are our apprentices in life and are looking to us as masters in how to live.   When I realize this I pray that my practice of living is worth learning from and it makes me want to change those things in me that I know are not worth their study in living.  Whether with our children or whoever is looking to us as examples in life may God guide us all and give us strength through His Word, so that we may do this life training well.