Monday, September 24, 2007

Dating

Another post I wanted to save from GCM. I referred in my last blog entry to a post I made about dating guidelines. Here it is:

"Miss Priss asked me in another thread what my guidelines are for dating, since Vespera has been dating the same guy for the last 5 months. I have to admit to struggling with whether to give the short answer or the long answer to this question. It's hard for me to put my finger on a set of guidelines. So, there's a lot of explanation that comes with everything I say. I will try, try, try to be brief. Bear with me.

First, my rule of thumb in parenting is to say "yes" to my kids as often as possible. So, when I have to say no, they respect that & understand that I have a reason. So, I'm not inclined to set up a bunch of arbitrary rules. I'm more inclined to feel out a situation and see what rules are warranted.

Next, I think your rules about dating have to be somewhat dependent on the type of kid you have. You have to know your kids, their weaknesses, their strengths & personalities. I don't suppose that's too much to assume here on GCM. I think most of you have that type of relationship with your kids.

So, ok. I don't have a ton of rules for Vespera...mostly because she's extremely honest & trustworthy. She's forthright about her emotions and her expectations. She won't hide things from me, and we talk about her relationship with her boyfriend on a regular basis...at least once a week.

Hmmm.... The first rule is that if they go someplace together she has to be home by 8. It's starts to get dark around 8. Neither of them drive. So, they're out on rollerblades or bikes if they're out. We live in a high crime urban area. She needs to be off the streets before dark. Her boyfriend sometimes stays at our house past dark, but then he bikes home super fast & calls when he arrives.

They don't go out on school nights. Vespera has soccer & homework. That fills her week. In the summer they saw each other several days a week. That's not difficult for them since they live within biking distance of each other. It would have to be different if I had to drive everywhere. She checks in with me about plans, and family plans always take priority, though sometimes it is appropriate for her boyfriend to be included, and then he comes along.

As a philosophical aside, it helps if you can be really flexible and open about family time & activities. As our children grow up, I think we have to be willing to open our homes and our plans to the people who are important to them. I ask Vespera's boyfriend to stay for dinner when he's here at dinner time, just as I would one of my friends who happened to be here during the dinner hour. It helps to remember that hospitality extends to those who are younger than us, to the friends of our children. Likewise, I try to help him feel at home here...especially since they have been dating for so long. He knows how to get his own glass of water & put his dishes in the dishwasher. I think it's important for Vespera's friends to feel like I'm looking out for them, too...sort of like the way people used to look out for each other's kids when all the kids roamed the neighborhoods. It was me who insisted that he call when he gets home whenever he bikes home after dark. I ask him about school, his grades, classes teachers... Mango & I sometimes offer advice about school or jobs or extracurricular stuff. I make sure they've eaten when they're going to be gone for some hours, help them make a plan for how long to be gone if they've got a particular destination in mind.

It really, really helps that Vespera's boyfriend makes a concerted effort to talk with us. He asks questions and participates in family conversation. We also ask questions and make an effort to really get to know him. He's shy, and it's hard to draw him out sometimes. But, I love it that I see him making an effort. He's very respectful of Vespera's "curfew" and of her space in the house. He doesn't go into her room unless asked and he looks to us for a nod of approval before he goes in. They keep the door open.

I didn't make rules about keeping the bedroom door open, but I'd make it a rule if I thought my kids needed it. As it is, I know that Vespera & her boyfriend have had conversations about physical boundaries. They hold hands & kiss, which I think is fine. We have, on two occasions, left them at the house while we ran errands. We absolutely felt that we could trust them. If I didn't feel I could trust them, I'd make it a point to be home, but I'd also make it a point to be having some serious conversations about sex. ...oh wait, we've had the serious conversations about sex anyway. And she's told me about the conversations they've had about sex.

I think as their relationship deepens and they've been together longer, it may be more important to be sure they aren't alone together for too long. I think the willpower to wait for sex may begin to wane as their emotional commitment and passion for each other increases. They might need help maintaining their boundaries. Right now I am not concerned. I trust them both. I know where they're at, and I know this isn't something we need to worry about right now.

Hmmm...what else? Oh, Vespera has a cell phone. We find it's beneficial for our family. She calls her boyfriend pretty much every night or he calls her. The rule is that as long as it doesn't interfere with her homework she may talk to him for as long as she wishes. She sometimes chooses not to call or to just call & say that she has too much to do to talk tonight. She does not generally take calls during dinner or while we're out places. These aren't exactly rules, but she recognizes these things as a matter of respect. I guess I'd make rules about it if I felt I had to. Oh, and I make sure she actually has the ringer ON on her phone so I can reach her when she's out. She always calls if she's going to be late.

And about being late. They were really, REALLY late once. I sat on the porch waiting for them. When they arrived I very calmly asked if they had any idea what time it was. I told them that I know how to get angry, and I would be extremely angry if this ever happened again. I explained that I am concerned about safety, and it makes me worried when they don't show up when they say they will. And I told them that if it ever, ever happened again they'd do all their dating right here on my front porch. They've since done lots of dating on the front porch of their own accord, but they haven't been late without calling ever again. They have not been chronically late, but after they were late & called a few times I told them that I expected them to plan better so that they were not always calling to say they'd be late.

I don't have rules about dating age. Vespera moved in with us when she was 15. At the time, I recognized that she was mature enough to date if she chose to. I don't know when that will happen for Mane or if I'll need to set an age."

In response to some other questions:
"The reason Vespera's bedroom is an ok place to be is because it's right off the living room. We live in an 1870's duplex. The living room is the center of the house. Both bedrooms & the kitchen open off the living room. Through the kitchen is the bathroom & dining room. And that's my whole house. If they're in the bedroom I can see them from the living room & part of the kitchen. I can hear them from anywhere. So, in the bedroom with the door open is sort of like being in an extension of the living room. I might feel different if they were in another level of the house or down a hallway....but maybe not. I don't know. As long as the door is open, I don't see how they're going to do anything they shouldn't.

They also spend lots of alone in public time - biking & rollerblading. They ALWAYS (I am totally serious) run into people who know them and are looking out for them. And they spend lots of time with the family. Over all, I'm very satisfied with how they conduct themselves. They were 16 & 17 when they started dating. He's 18 now & she's almost 17. I think this has a great deal to do with why it's going so well. They are also both from Hispanic families by birth, and think this has something to do with their relational maturity as well. I hope to raise Mane in similar ways so that she is prepared to conduct herself in such a mature way.

I have to put in a word, too, for talking to teens about how to be with their boyfriend/girlfriend when they're around other friends. Vespera & her boyfriend have been careful (using some of our advice) to not alienate their other friends when they're all together. They're affectionate (holding hands & maybe leaning on each other when they sit together), but they don't kiss around their friends & they are careful to not always sit together. They want to make sure they maintain their other friendships. They both have had experience with people who are "all over each other," who "can't leave each other alone," and who can't do anything without their boyfriend/girlfriend. They knew exactly what we were talking about when we mentioned this to them, and they don't want to be that way.

And...since I can't seem to stop typing... ...we've also talked with Vespera about nurturing the friendship part of their relationship and making it a priority over the "romance" right now because they both have 2 years of school left (he moved here from Mexico & was placed back in school because of language issues) and they may break up. But they *do* have a totally unique friendship, a lot of similar interests, and a genuine care for each other. If it turns out that this isn't a long-term thing for them, they may be able to end the dating on good terms and keep a valuable friendship."

Teens & Birth Control

Someone on the GCM message board asked about whether we should provide our teenagers with birth control if we know they are going to have sex. The question is whether or not this is the same as condoning teenage sex. Is it the same as telling them to go ahead and do it. I wanted to save my response. So, I thought I'd post it in my blog. Here it is:

This is an excellent question & one definitely worth discussing. If anyone has read my posts on teenage dating you know that I'm all about open communication & honest, forthright education. Vespera is aware that sex is a beautiful, wonderful, pleasurable thing...and that it's not for her right now because it would compromise her integrity and her future. At this point, she isn't finding it hard to wait...yes, we talk about these things. I suspect that in another year it will be getting harder if she's still with the same guy. We've talked about how it gets harder over time...especially when, as someone else mentioned, it's "not some sweaty thing in the backseat of a car," but something borne of deep emotional connection and is an expression of a long-term commitment, something sweet and tender and loving and all those things I hope for her *after* the wedding.

We've actually talked quite a bit about how sex has the potential to be this beautiful, sacred, holy, pure and, therefore, very life-giving connection in a relationship when people wait for the God-ordained time to be together. And sex has the potential to be fraught with emotional baggage when a couple does not wait. We have emphasized that this does *not* mean that healing cannot happen, that people cannot be restored, that the life-giving qualities of sex cannot be restored to a relationship. BUT, we have emphasized that this is a choice she can make...to choose the one path or the other.

Sooooooooooo, where does this leave us? *If* it should happen that Vespera decided to have sex with her boyfriend anyway despite our best efforts to educate and encourage AND supervise (and after expressing my concern & disappointment), I think I probably would help her have access to birth control. I'm not sure I would provide it for her. She already knows about the types of birth control available to her from health classes at school and from the books I've shared with her over the past few years about bodies & sex. She is currently morally opposed to birth control. So, I don't forsee ever being faced with this situation. wink It's good to think it through, though.

I have to say, though, that in the past few years, I've had a lot of experiences where I feel like the wisdom to handle particular situations has come to me on an "as needed" basis. Mango & I strive to be always connected to God's plan for our lives, to be ever listening for the still, small Voice. And we've found that our parenting has evolved situation by situation. We don't always know how we would handle something ahead of time, but, when the time comes, we simply know. We have experienced the Holy Spirit in nearly tangible ways as we've made decisions we hadn't been prepared to make. So, I always hesitate a little now to say what I would or would not do. I cannot know for sure what I would do, but it's good for me to think, in theory, about what I'd do. I think these discussions are valuable and helpful...yet, I know that, ultimately, I will have to be open and flexible to the voice of the Holy Spirit.

Friday, September 21, 2007

School

So, we've had a bumpy first few weeks of school. Mane has gone from excited to distressed and resigned and back again. We considered homeschooling all of last year...seriously considered it. And I'm still pretty much homeschooling, except that she's gone for a few hours every day. Now we're in the struggle of deciding whether to keep her in school or not. Because she's learning very little content. Though, Mango will tell you that learning process is just as important as learning content...and I believe him. But she also has the longest bus ride I've ever heard of on the way to school. And she doesn't like the bus driver on the way home. And the boys in her class push people.

She is learning to put everything away after taking it out. To wait her turn without interrupting. To take responsibility for herself when she has needs (like getting off the bus past kids who won't move). She is making friends, learning new games, and singing new songs. She has stories to tell from life on her own in the big, big world.

But I miss her. And I have so many things I want to do with her. And I want her to learn the things she's interested in learning. And I want her to do that without being so tired from school that she cannot possibly do/learn one more thing. I love the way that homeschooler talk about their homes and their families. I might really want to homeschool. And the bumps this year have given me a lot of pause.

Soooooo, this morning she said AGAIN that she didn't want to go. So, I said, "Ok, you could stay home. You don't have to go to school." Mane paused, considered, and said, "No, I really like school. I want to go to school." Later she said that school was too long, and that it's boring, but she still wants to go. What am I supposed to make of that?! Well, I supposed what I can make of that is that a 5yr old cannot be relied upon to make such a decision, and I still need to make it myself.

And so I sit and stew. I need to talk and talk and talk about it. I'm even bored of hearing myself talk about it. So, now I'm writing instead.

I know she needs friends. And I know that's the age-old question about homeschooling, and homeschoolers have lots of ready responses. I know all the responses. I've even used those responses in defending my potential decision to homeschool. But, the truth of the matter is that there's something unique about spending several hours a day with the same group of kids. Even if I arranged other social activities for her, I'm sure I couldn't find people who wanted to get together for a few hours a day a few times a week. That's what school is for, right?

And now I have to run because Mane needs attention. Probably more thoughts to come...though everything may have changed by the time I get back to this.

Spanish

I'm going to just say the cliches. I have to get them out of my system, ok? Spanish is the most beautiful language. Truly. It rolls off the tongue in a way that English almost never does. Now granted, you can say things very, very specifically in English. Spanish has fewer words, tends to be less specific. But, it makes up for this in beauty, in emotional expression. You have to put your heart into your words to get at the specifics. Maybe this is why I find Spanish music so powerful. You can tell the specifics, not by the actual words, but by the inflection. It's not a tonal language, yet if you use the whole range of emotional expression available to you, you can say much more than the words actually say. I suppose this could, perhaps, be said of English also. But, there's something different about Spanish. So much of it sounds sensual, juicy, full, brimming. English words do not suffice to describe Spanish.

I love it, and Mango love this, that Spanish has ONE word, meaning "with you." Contigo. Go ahead. Say it. (cohnteego) And "with me." Conmigo. (cohnmeego) My favorite Spanish words. You see, in Spanish one has to use the familiar form of the verb to say "with you" or "with me" as one word. If one is speaking formally, one must say, "Con Usted" or "Con Yo." But, informally, familiarly, it's one word. And such lovely words. I don't know why I feel this way. I just do.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Big Days

Vespera's adoption was final one year ago last Saturday. She spent the day with her birth family and playing soccer. That has a certain poignancy all by itself. Life with her is often filled with the paradoxical.

It wasn't too painful, though, as it gave us the opportunity to reflect on her adoption and find a suitable gift to celebrate the one year anniversary of the day. She came home to us on Sunday and we ran off to a birthday party & housewarming. On the way we stopped at a coffee shop. (Yes, we've gotten her addicted to coffee shops, too.) She got a smoothie with whipped cream. Truly the way to this girl's heart is, at least partly, through her stomach. Her mama taught her to love good food, no substitutions. So, we all sat down, and I passed her the gift we'd found...a book of wonderful quotes. She (and her boyfriend) can spend hours reading quotes. She just loves these little gems. It's like short poetry. I have to admit to enjoying a good collection of quotes myself.

I sent her off to school on Tuesday brimming with excitement, carrying the posterboard she made about vectors for summer homework, two apples & granola bars for the time between school and her soccer game tonight, brand new backpack & notebooks & folders. Mango was anxious and tired, ready but not ready for the new year. Vespera sang to him the night before, "Lean on me when you're not strong. I'll be your friend..." It was cute, her helping him along for the first day of school. The relationship between them has taken several gigantic strides since a few weeks ago when we got some new info from Vespera about her birth family. It's amazing what honesty will do.

Our celebration Sunday was small. Sunday & Monday passed in the relaxed ease of time shared together and with friends. Tuesday saw Vespera & Mango off to school, and I just now have a moment to reflect. We tumble through these momentous days one after another. I sometimes feel it a desecration to not honor each moment in some big way, but this year small seems to suit us. We didn't have big adoption parties or back to school parties. The quiet of this year is a dramatic contrast with last year. Somehow this is right. We are nourished and satisfied by the sweet, small moments.

Now, tomorrow, Mane begins kindergarten. This is her moment this week, and I have a feeling it will be big...