Sunday, September 13, 2015

When your kids are really different than you

My daughter wants me to take her running. She wants me to time each lap, so she can try to better her time. She'll be competing in her first triathlon soon, and she's disappointed to learn that there are no "places", no medals. Everyone who finishes will get a medal, the idea being to keep it positive and fun for kids. But being timed and ranked, while potentially crushing for some kids, would be motivating for her. She's happy when I tell her that next year she'll be in middle school and she can compete in track.

I watch her bobbed blond hair swing back and forth as she runs. She makes it around the last curve of the track to the starting line, then gulps water and dramatically flings herself down on the grass. "Ready to go home?" I ask. The sun is setting coral behind the high school, and the colors of the sky and field are draining away to dark blue and gray and black. "No," she pops up beaming. "I want to do it again!"

This is new to me, foreign. Whenever I have been required to run laps or lift weights, it feels like nothing but a dreaded chore. I resent the time required by most exercise, I'd rather be doing almost anything else. I can't relate to the enjoyment my friends tell me they get from running and swimming laps. I've made attempts to join them, to give it a chance, but the joy is just not there for me. It's not that I reject movement completely. I enjoy long walks with the dog when I can look around and notice things. I'm fine with a strenuous hike up a mountain or down to a beautiful lake, preferably with a good camera in hand. But it's the looking around, and noticing the details of nature, that feeds my soul and recharges me, not the exertion itself. On a really good walk or hike I even get ideas for poems or pictures in my head. And if there's competition involved--forget it!

My daughter is so different than me.

Sometime this summer I was working at my art table, a thing I don't do very often. My daughter came and stood at my shoulder for a few minutes, quietly watching, and then she said, "Mommy, are you happy when you do that?" Her question made me pause and think. Yes. Yes, I am happy when I do this. Creativity, making things, makes me happy. Recently after a very difficult counseling session I gave myself a few hours to spend at the art table to try to regain some balance before the kids got home from school. Before long I was surprised to find myself humming--something I never do. I felt content, peaceful, and yes, happy. After such darkness only a few hours before. Maybe this is how my friends feel after a run.

We are all unique. And when we have family members, spouses and children who are very different than us, it is easy to reject them, or to unintentionally put pressure on them to be different. We can miss the clues telling us who they really are, what they love, how they're motivated and how they can thrive. An organized, task oriented parent feels upset at the mess made by his or her creative child, or frustration and anger what seems to her like daydreaming or dawdling. A creative, spontaneous parent may not realize the stress and frustration a very organized child feels at the lack of structure at home or the flippant disregard of his or her real concerns. An athletic family may feel frustrated when one of their brood complains about playing sports or going to games, or may make fun of and deeply hurt a child who loves drama and musicals. We have to "tune in" to each other, and in a family we all have to learn to flex to some extent. But parents need to be the ones to pick up on important differences, and we must be the ones to flex more.

When my daughter was six, the thing she wanted most for her birthday was a clock for her wall. One with a second hand. She also likes to cross off each day on her calendar. When I've tried to share with her the imaginative books and stories I loved as a child, she isn't that interested. And the times I've tried to sit down with her and do arts and crafts have not gone well. I could be frustrated with this. Disappointed and resentful. Or,

I could watch the way her hair swings golden back and forth as she runs down the track, and notice the way that--despite her red face and heaving chest--she glows when she finishes a whole mile. I could take her to a women's soccer or basketball game at the college, or, (confession time), at least listen with interest to her play by play description when she comes home after attending with her dad. I can watch the March Madness games or the NBA finals with my oldest son, or agree to film my other son while he dunks a basketball, over and over again and in every imaginable fashion, so he can make a YouTube video. I could go play disc golf with my husband even though I'm terrible at it and I find it both humiliating and boring, because this is something that relaxes him and occasionally he resorts to doing it by himself if he can't find another friend.

And once in a while I can take time at my art table, because that's what feeds me. It's hard for me to do this. It feels unproductive. No one else in my family does this sort of thing, so I even feel self-conscious and a little silly. Knitting in front of a show or televised game while hanging out with everyone fits in easily, but dedicated creative time--that feels harder.

But in a healthy family, there's room for us all.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

The Power of Imagination, and Why I Like Disneyland

A "magical" picture from a Disneyland trip several years ago
In a few weeks my youngest and I will be going to Disneyland for a few days, tacked on to the front end of a longer trip to visit my husband's family in California and attend a ministry conference. The much-older teen brothers hear about this, and roll their eyes and groan. Which is why they're not invited. At 10 years old child #3 is in the twilight of childhood, and I'm going to hold on to every moment, to milk it for all it's worth. I had a ton of air miles saved up, and she's still young enough to be really excited to go to Disneyland. Especially without her cynical big brothers.

Now Disneyland has got to be one of the most contrived, cheesiest places on earth. A massive display of the most blatant commercialization you will ever see. And yet despite this, if you can think past the too-loud music blaring from everywhere and the astronomical prices attached to everything, some of the "magic" remains. Why? Because beneath the layers of glossy marketing, there is Imagination. Ingenuity. Wonder, even. The real deal.

What a gift imagination is. To a child in a bleak situation he or she has no power to change, imagination can fill the mind and heart with delight, interest, and hope. As a child, I loved books and stories. As an adult, I think I love them even more. Without imagination, we could not think our way past the negative circumstances of our lives, past the problems that seem fixed and inescapable. Without imagination, we would be severely limited in our ability to reach past these things in faith and grasp the idea of heaven, or of a GOOD God who loves us and helps us even when everything around us looks bleak.

I'm working on a new book, a young adult fiction/fantasy book. Chock full of fantastic imagined characters and adventure. What a delight it is, in this season of life when I'm frankly feeling a little bored by my "suburban soccer mom" lifestyle, consisting mostly of must-dos that often are not terribly interesting to me, to open my laptop and enter another world for a while.

I've had people ask me if I plan to write more about the characters in my first book, and my answer is: Not now. I do not think that book is overly heavy, but it isn't exactly light-hearted, either. In my own life, I've been through months and years of facing heavy and hard and sad stuff. I'm stepping free of shadows which for most of my life I did not even realize were hanging over me. I'm ready for some lightness, triumph, joy. Because in the real story, that's how things end.

But to get a glimpse of that end, you need enough illumination to see the road you're walking on. And that illumination might reveal some stuff that's pretty hard to deal with.

Someday I'd like to ditch the big house and yard, live in a simple condo or apartment near a great airport, travel a ton and have real adventures. But for now, flights of the imagination, along with the occasional short excursion our way-stretched budget will cover, will have to do.