Free Play- adventures in parenting

32 years ago I became a know-it-all mom.

I delivered annoying Ted Talks to anyone who would listen. I went on and on about how to

  • stick to a daily nap-time
  • pick out educational toys
  • maintain a safe and sanitary environment
  • serve nutritious meals three times a day.

Fast forward four kids later.  I couldn’t remember to wipe the drool off my face in the morning much less how to mold a child’s future.

My kids filled all the thinkable space around me

  • tearing through the house
  • making lots of noise
  • drawing blood with toy rakes and shovels
  • turning building blocks into wooden bombs
  • taking dolls prisoner

and scribbling treasure map after treasure map in hopes of finding buried gold. (I know, their approach to treasure mapping can mess with your head. I advise that you just keep reading and try not to draw any maps of your own.)

My husband and I did the after-school enhancement thing. We shuttled the kids to swimming lessons, ballet, gymnastic classes, skating, soccer and football  practice. We did as much as one car and a tight budget could accomplish. Just an ordinary family desperately trying to fit into civilized society.

Once we got home my kids ran out the back yard and grabbed

  • tree branches,
  • worn out clothes,
  • old buckets
  • pots and pans

so that they could get back to the business of play, of creating crazy and dangerous  worlds over and over again.

What part of “lets be normal like everyone else” did they not understand?

Although I secretly admired their creativity, I was terrified that our parenting was not enough.

So I asked someone for parenting advice.

I didn’t know her well but I admired how she related to her kids, kids much older than mine. I hoped at least for some tips on organization and discipline.

What she imparted was so much more.

Kids need free play, she said.

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Don’t obsess too much on  programs after school she said. It’s more important that kids have time to play with

  • match box cars in the dirt.
  • Dolls on the porch.
  • Or read a book on the couch for a while.

Free play, she said, helped kids to relax, recharge and learn to problem solve.

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After that,  I started to see the benefits of free play instead of the mess my kids made.  There was a depth to their pretending that allowed them to dream and create. This unstructured time gave them a safe space to process emotions and explore their abilities. Their confidence grew as they mastered the art of creating their own fun.

Free play benefited me too. It gave me a few moments to eat that bit of chocolate or just sit and breathe in a comfy chair. This simple act of facilitating free play  also helped me begin the process of letting go.

Calm down. I didn’t let my six year old rent his own apartment or my three year old take the public bus to the library.  I let go of the urge to “make things happen” all the time. My kids began to develop their separate selves in small ways while still connected to mom and dad.

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Free play didn’t make me a parenting whiz. I had so much to learn. I still do.

The advice of free play did show me that wisdom shows up in simple ways and in manageable pieces. A glimpse of understanding when you least expect it. A talk with a friend. An article. A moment of silence that clears your head.

Even at the best of times, tons of parenting advice and information can come crashing down on your head. It’s ok, my friend,  to crawl out from underneath it all and carry on.

Wisdom knows where you live and will find you at the right time.

 

 

 

 

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Eat. Pray. Love. -A not-so-great mom celebrates her first born son

32 years ago today I gave birth to my first child.

baby josh

My family threw me a party when I brought him home. Maybe it was

  • the 1.5 days of hard labour.
  • The emergency c-section.
  • The fact that I’d never really been interested in other people’s babies. Maybe it was because none of the doctors or nurses volunteered to come home with me to help with this hungry, crying, pooping creature.

All I remember is sitting on the couch and crying.

I really truly didn’t think I could parent, much less survive the night.

I know,  not-so-great mom.

Don’t get me wrong. I loved my son with a love I had never experienced before. It’s like my heart got up and walked clean out of my body and embraced my little son. At the same time, I felt like a little kid. I waited for someone to take the baby and tell me to go back outside and play with the other kids. I just didn’t together get it all right. And, as the months progressed, it showed.

I was a mom who

  • forgot all about the baby every time the phone rang. More than once I ran back in the middle of a conversation to finish changing a dirty diaper.
  • let a stranger hold her baby at the airport so she could run to the bathroom and then ran back in a panic hoping that stranger had not taken off with her son.
  • took her 5 month son and visiting brother on a bike ride in Stanley park in the winter while it was raining.

Most times my house, my car and my hair were a mess. I didn’t make amazing meals.  Woke up on Mondays after forgetting to wash school clothes on weekends. I messed up over and over.  If parents got report cards I certainly would have made sure I lost mine on the way home.

But parenting is not

  • a grade
  • a project
  • or even a contest

It’s about faith. It’s about courage.  It’s about facing every day with three simple truths.

Eat. Pray. Love.

First, my apology to Elizabeth Gilbert. I confess I stole the title of your first best seller.

But, your awesome title was the only way to explain how this not-so-great mother managed to survive. It’s the reason my kids still talk to me, dare to associate with me in public after all the not-so-great parenting things I have done.

EAT- yeah, I know you’re smirking at this one. I don’t look like I missed many meals. But that’s not what I’m talking about. “Eat” is all about stopping everything to make a connection with your child. Like mealtimes. It’s not a battleground, or a chance to catch up on the dishes. It’s a moment you have your child’s attention, when they have yours. I tried to make the most of those slow-down-in-the-middle-of-chaos times.  I would listen-really listen to my kids and respond to them. My dishes got dirty again no matter how many times I washed them. The floor got sticky no matter how many times I mopped. But, my children never stopped growing and changing no matter how busy my schedule became. They needed me to stop everything and just be present with them. Those moments built connections. Relationship. The greatest investment I ever made.

PRAY-  There are not enough books or podcasts to help us fully master parenting.  I went to God constantly with my worries and concerns and my fears.  From the time my firstborn was itty bitty, I prayed about everything. You may think I was not as swift as other parents and I needed God more than most. But, maybe it’s just that I knew how much love my children needed. And as much as I loved them desperately, God loved them even more. He created them, knew them inside and out. I trusted God with them, their hearts, their future. I still do. And, I know from experience that God always comes through. Even for parents like me.

LOVE- this is the most glorious part. Josh was the first offspring to capture my heart. To start me on a journey of picnics in the backyard, birthday parties with dump truck cakes, of treasure hunts and story time. Even at a young age, my son had confidence. Confidence in who he was and what he wanted out of life. It shook my compliant personality to the core. Not everyone understood my strong-willed son. But my son gave me courage to trust the parenting process  even when other people didn’t think I was doing it right. When my son grew up and went to college, it just about ripped my heart out. (I cried and cried. It’s kind of how I handle change. I know.  Not-so-great mom.) But, that’s ok. Even though I let go, my love followed my son all along.

Today my oldest child Joshua Roy Hixson turns a wise and adventurous 32.

Most importantly, he and his wife are on a parenting journey of their own. It’s exciting to watch, even from far away. It’s not half as scary because I now know how forgiving this how process can be. No one is perfect. Stuff happens. There is so much we cannot control.

Thanks Josh for teaching me how exciting parenting can be. How forgiving the process can be. How imperfect people can raise children to be uniquely what they were created to be.

josh and shep

Happy birthday to an awesome firstborn. A devoted husband. A great dad.

josh and laura and Shepherd

Eat. Pray. Love.

 

The dark side of Christmas

I love Christmas.

The glitz. The glitter. All the Christmas lights. IMG_3383.jpg

And I am so hooked on Hallmark Christmas movies.  Sure they’re mindless. But they are fun. I love Christmas programs at church especially when little kids pick their nose and point at their parents when they’re supposed to be singing Away in a Manger.

But, sometimes I dread it too. Not the nose picking of course. That’s hilarious!

What I’m talking about is sadness. A kind of aching that slowly comes over me when I  least expect it. I begin to really feel the loss of people in my life. My Dad. My grandparents. Cousins. Close friends.

I feel hardship more keenly and disappointment much more deeply. 

And yes, it makes me cry at the most inopportune  times.

Weird I know. I’ve been wondering for years what was wrong with me.

Maybe nothing at all.

Maybe whats going on is that I’m onto something big.

Like the true meaning of Christmas.

I think its found in 

  • Loss.
  • lonliness
  • Confusion

All the things you’re not supposed to feel during the most wonderful time of the year. But it happens. Emotions, like an avalanche can flatten you in no time.

So how in the world are you supposed to be all holly jolly? When your heart is breaking. When you can barely even breathe.

I think the first line of a Christmas song by Dallas Holmes says it all.

“To a world of fear and darkness

came a light as bright as day.”

  1. Fear.
  2. Darkness.
  3. And the light.

We all know fear up close and personal. And Simon and Garfunkel were not far off when they sang “hello darkness, my old friend”. Sometimes that’s all we have left when our hope fades away. 

But, what about the light? 

That’s what we long for. No need for bulbs and cords and sockets to plug it all in. 

We long for Jesus.

The light of a tiny, baby covered in afterbirth. Wrapped in someone’s spare clothes. Cooing in the soft hay of a feeding trough. Surrounded by sweaty shepherds and sheep and cows and donkeys and who knows what other animals.IMG_3258.jpg

Emanuel.

God with us.

Thats the only we we survive the darkness. 

To know that God is with us. Always.

In our joy, in our suffering we are no longer alone. 

 

Don’t give up on yourself

“Don’t Give Up On Yourself.”

One email heading in my mailbox yesterday.  Five little words. But, what a big punch.

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We all have dreams. We all have passions. It’s absolutely natural. In fact, it’s emotionally and spiritually healthy to have vision for the future. Dreams, goals and vision help us move from where we are to where we long to be.

It’s all good -until everything falls apart.

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Financial set backs. Health problems. Unexpected disasters. Sometimes it’s just stupid mistakes or unwise decisions that throw all our hopes and  dreams into a tailspin.

We figure the best thing to do is to crawl into a hole somewhere and just disappear. Give up. Go home. Never dream again.

This mindset may sound drastic, but when you travel down enough dead ends, it makes perfect sense.

But, it’s not.

At the very epicentre of disappointment and disaster is a door. A battered framework that waits for us to enter. It’s not exactly The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe kind of stuff. But, it’s a surrender of the heart  that leads to growth and change of a magnitude that may have never been possible before our lives flipped upside down.

By now you may think I’m one of those people who 

  • wears tin foil hats to keep aliens from reading my thoughts.
  • grows armpit hair specifically for the weaving of magic baskets.

Both are interesting concepts. But, not true in my case. And, it’s not just because I look terrible in hats or that I am a mess when it comes to small motor skill challenges. 

It’s just that I know all about dead end streets. I’ve seen fragments of my hopes and dreams waft away like bits of dandelion fluff on the wind. I wanted so badly just to give up-

to cry

and cry

and cry

until my eyes puffed up like inflatable swim rings, my nose crusted over and every surface in the house was piled high with sticky globs of kleenex.

I know. Dramatic.

But, we all process in our own way. We all slip and slide down to the bottom of despair in our own individual and not always elegant style. 

But, the bottom is the same no matter how you land.

And believe it or not, the hope is the same.

God is in the darkness as well as the light.

And He often works out His glory in us through our crash-and-burns even more powerfully than in our own carefully crafted plans.

Back to crusty noses and piles of kleenex. After the waves of 

anger,

frustration

and disappointment,

there comes a calm. It may be many things. Exhaustion. Resignation. Our bodies telling us its time to just stop and breathe.

This is a good time, a very good time to ask yourself one question.

This mess, this disaster, this complicated collapse of all that we depended upon- what does it make possible?

It’s a question I first read on the Michael Hyatt blog a couple years ago. Ever since, God has used that one question to challenge me again and again and again.

What does all this crazy stuff that has happened to you make possible? What door does it open for God to perform a miracle? What unwanted stuff does it reveal that needs to change for healing to happen?

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Don’t give up on yourself. God gives us dreams for a reason. Our job is to keep following those dreams with all that is within us. And when we hit a dead end, it’s God’s job to reshape, reposition and renew us by opening a new door.

When the dust clears, ask God – what does this make possible?

Death, Hell and the grave- who’s your daddy now?

My Dad was just like any other dad. A human being with an expiration date. A body that started winding down the moment he was born.

In fact, dad tested that expiration date two times before he died. He suffered two heart attacks.  During the second one his heart stopped completely.  Dad recalled looking down from the ceiling and wondering who the guy was on the gurney.

Then, dad slid away from the room. His spirit moved toward the most magnificent colours he had ever seen. Everything around him grew warm and vibrant. Dad knew he was coming into the presence of Jesus. Finally, my dad was heading home.

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But, he stopped. Then turned away.

“My kids still need me,” he said.

Suddenly, Dad gasped for breath. Pain washed over him as medical professionals worked to save his life.

It was not his time to go.

When Dad’s time came years later, he was ready.

All because of the Resurrection.

Without the Resurrection Jesus was just another man with great ideas. Without the Resurrection, the Bible was just another volume of philosophy. Without the resurrection, nothing really changed in endless cycle of pain and suffering.

That is why I celebrate the tearing and ripping of death, hell and the grave. The stone rolling away from an empty tomb. Two women running with joy through the morning light to spread the news.

He is risen.

Absolutely, without a doubt, my dad’s in heaven.

All because of the Resurrection.

 

Dancing in the streets (with or without pumpkins)-under the influence of truth

I’ve told you before, and I’ll tell you again (like right now, duh)

You and me, each one of us is an incredible act of creation,  endlessly complex, biological and physiological miracle. We are nothing less than stunning reminders of God’s love. Each one of us a beautiful jumble of emotion and thought and dreams and hopes and endless possibilities. 

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Think that’s pretty great news?

So why aren’t the lot of us flat out dancing in the streets? Why aren’t we doing all the crazy, meaningful things we were created to do? Why can’t we do the impossible like the kid trying to lift a too-heavy pumpkin over his head?

How did so many of us grow up to be so fearful, guarded and no fun to be around? 

It’s the lies.

Lies get us down. Make us blind. Angry. Pitiful. Ashamed of the very gifts we were given by our heavenly Father.

I know. I have been smacked down and flattened by so many lies I had to wear those cut out paper doll clothes for like three weeks. (just kidding, those things don’t come in my size lol!)

But, seriously, comments people make about me can stick like velcro. Conclusions I draw in moments of doubt can terrify.  Fears often cloud my vision and squeeze the joy right out of my heart. Not exactly a trip to Disneyland. 

Truth is –what we see doesn’t effect us as much as what we believe. Any crazy notion can rock our world as long as we think it is true.

Unfortunately, the unconditional love of almighty God ends up shimmering like a tree in the rain. In the raging storm of  doubt we aren’t sure if He ever there for us at all.

The good thing about God – He is truth.

His love is boundless. His mercy everlasting. His promises glorious and unbroken.

Yeah, I know, life is tough. We  get stressed out. Even freaked out. Let’s face it, sometimes we all just get just plain down and out.

I am telling you, there is another way to walk through the mess that life can be.

We can choose truth.  God’s truth.

How so?

  1. Know the truth. Learn it. Speak it. Get a hold of it first thing every day.
  2. Take out the trash. That’s right. Throw out the lies the minute they enter your head. Confront the lies you see around you with whats true, even if you just journal it down.
  3. Stand by what you know. Don’t let someone steal your truth with intimidation. Go ahead and celebrate it even if are alone. Don’t worry. Truth can stand on it’s own.
  4. Repeat number one over and over again.

Talk about it. Think about it. Even sing about it.

Trust me. God is truth. He will not us down.

Who knows?

We may end up dancing in the streets after all. 🙂

Smashing against the end of ourselves and other ways to fall apart

IMG_0723I’ve been thinking a lot about faith lately.

Don’t think I”m trying to be super spiritual. Fact is, hard times have forced me to it.

I usually just pray that trouble would fade away.  Problem solved. Life back to peachy-keen and mighty-fine. No rocking the boat, no upsetting the apple cart, no running blind in the dark.

But I have learned that, without struggles to remind us of who we are and what we need, we can end up with a severe case of spiritual dehydration. Our gratefulness can turn to pride and our compassion for other people crumble into dust.

Hard times push us until we smash against the end of ourselves. Force us to face our limitations. Embrace our need for God. Every day. All the time.

News Flash-

God is not out to destroy us. He loves us and wants to bless us. He hurts for us when we are in pain and He is present with us in our suffering.  

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Every. Single. Minute. Of. Every. Day.

Hard times make us hungry. Thirsty. Desperate for God.

Sure, I am first to admit that our struggles can break us into a million little pieces.

But, It changes our vision. Our faith. We begin to see deeply into the suffering of others. We can speak healing into their lives with a power that only comes from brokenness.

Going through troubles increases our faith. The more we need God the more we seek him.

When I was a little girl, I used to run around like crazy all day pestering everyone on the planet. By bedtime, I was ready to pass out on the bottom bunk bed. I didn’t really think about my parents much before I went to sleep. If they had gone out for the rest of the night I would not have even noticed. Sleep, that was what mattered.

But one nightmare could change everything. I’d wake up terrified and run straight to Mom and Dad’s room. I had to see them. To feel their hugs. Hear their groggy voices.

I had to know that they were REALLY there.

When we come to the end of ourselves and all the things we depend on to keep us safe, we need to know that God is REALLY there.

Finding that God in the middle of the night will increase your faith. Hands down.

Maybe you going through some difficult times right now. Maybe its made you pray like crazy or you swear like a sailor. Maybe you find it hard to get out of bed in the morning or you can’t sleep at night.

When you are overwhelmed, you may not be able to do all you think you should do. Give yourself space just to do what you can. Here are a few simple things that may help.

  1. Move your body even if you don’t feel like it. Ha! I’ve been goaded by my kids to show off some of my crazy dance moves when I just didn’t even feel like smiling Funny thing, by the end of the song I was actually having fun. Stress can make your mind run a mile a minute.  Getting out and walking, running or doing what ever you do to move can actually elevate your mood. It clears your head and helps your heart stay strong.
  2. Share with someone safe. Talk to someone whose love and acceptance you trust. Saying out loud what you are thinking can defuse some of your greatest fears. It’s a way to sort out your thoughts. And it gives true friends get a chance to show you the grace that has been there for you all along.
  3. Write down what gives you hope. If God gives you insight through meditation, a conversation or what ever, write it down. Don’t be afraid to go back and read it again when you are struggling. Hope is meant for hard times.
  4. Eat your veggies. Sounds a little silly. But, as a sugar junkie, I know what stress can do to the everyday diet. And an unhealthy diet can drag you down, make you feel hopeless on top of everything else that is going on.
  5. Try not to let your feelings mess with your mind. The worst thing about going through hard times are the emotional ups and downs. The same emotions that make you cry over a lost little puppy can downright lie to you about your circumstances.  Whether your actions brought you to this point or your response to your circumstances have been pretty nasty, God loves you and wants to show you grace. Accept it. Embrace it. Allow yourself to be ok with where you are.

Whew, writing this blog really cleared my head and helped me see more clearly what God is doing in my life and the life of my family.

God is good. Even in the dark. Especially in the dark.

Why?

Because there is nothing like reaching out when you can’t see a thing and finding the creator of the universe right beside you.

Have a blessed week! And if you feel like you just can’t hold onto God through all that is happening. Take heart! He is holding on to you!