Friday, March 28, 2008

I just need to say...

I want to be clear (after those last 2 posts) that Mango & I didn't have a clue about how we were going to handle dating in our house until it was actually staring us in the face. Given that we weren't planning to have a teenager for a number of years yet, dating wasn't really on the radar. What *did* actually happen in our house evolved out of a mix of Vespera's personality, our life stories, values & education, and a WHOLE LOT of prayer. Sometimes those prayers were nothing but a whispered, "God, please help," before we took a deep breath & plunged into a conversation we weren't prepared to have. What has come out of this seems to be a contented relationship between ourselves and Vespera and a healthy "dating" relationship between Vespera & Novio. I want to say that I don't believe this happened by accident, but I don't think it's because Mango & I are so great, either. It's because we've been clinging to God for dear life through this whole thing, and, though we never seem to get direction ahead of time, God's guidance is there when we need it. The last few years have been a lesson in parenting by faith. I believe God uses the things we already know & the experiences we've had, but, ultimately this whole thing has been shaped & guided by God.

Parenting Teens

The topic of parenting teenagers seems to be a hot one on the Christian mothering board right now. Here's my response to whether or not I'd let my teen date someone who is not a Christian:

"In general, I think forbidding teens to do anything is a bad idea. We just had this conversation in our house in relation to music. Vespera has some music that she enjoys because of the *music.* Mango & I have trouble with the lyrics. Forbidding her to listen to it would only make her angry & probably make her *want* to listen to it more, though chances are that she would respect us enough to not listen to it. That's just her personality. So, what did we do? We talked in general about how negative lyrics can really affect your attitude. We used some humor. And then Mango went & downloaded some similar music (same style, better lyrics) into her itunes and played it for her on the way to school. She LOVES the stuff he picked out & started playing it for her friends.

Ok, so that was a tangent. On the dating question, I wouldn't expressly forbid dating someone of another faith. I would absolutely talk with her about her values and what she wants from a dating relationship, what matters to her and what doesn't. At this point, I see my job as helping her clarify her own values and live by them. I tell her I'm concerned when I'm concerned. I sometimes start a conversation with, "Can I tell you what I think about this?" or, "Do you want to know what I would do?" She's very open to hearing what I have to say as long as it's not a lecture or a bunch of rules. Honestly, I know she *wants* some guidance, but she wants it in a way that respects her as a person & allows her to make her own decisions."

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Dating vs. Courting

I recently read an enlightening discussion on GentleChristianMothers (GCM), in which people were trying to define courting vs. dating and talk about what they'd like for their own kids. What's interesting to me is that courtship is supposed to be entered into with the intention of choosing a life partner, a marriage partner, and this is supposed to protect the teenagers heart from being broken over and over again in dating relationships. Other aspects of courtship, of course, included being chaperoned or in groups or in public, spending time with the whole family, and knowing each other first before diving into a relationship. Interestingly, I came out of the discussion wondering just what to call the relationship between Vespera & Novio. Honestly, the semantics don't matter. It seems to me that their relationship has been healthy, honest, and beneficial for both of them.

As many of you know, Vespera has been dating the same guy for about a year now. The two of them knew each other from a multicultural teen group for over a year before they started dating. He escorted her home from the group several times (they rode their bikes to the park where the group meets) before they were dating. He stopped to chat with us on the porch on those occasions. Eventually he asked her if we'd let them go biking together over spring break. She came home & talked it over with us. They went biking & he told her he liked her. They've been "dating" ever since. Dating means that they bike & rollerblade together when the weather is warm. They meet up here on Friday nights and draw, play music, dance, read, do homework, and talk either in her bedroom (which is right off the living room), on the porch, or in the living room. Many evenings he's here for dinner, especially in the summer.

So, they got to know each other in a group setting first, then they started spending time just the two of them in public places & chaperoned by us. This has been a time of having fun together, getting to know each other well, and making decision about whether this is a relationship they wanted to stick with or not. I have to say that their hearts have been protected along the way. They did not jump into this with the intention of getting too serious too soon. They started dating because they were attracted to each other, they saw things they liked & admired in each other, and they wanted to build a deeper friendship to see where it may lead. They didn't start using the word "love" for a long time. More recently they've worked through some conflicts & misunderstandings, and they've begun to talk of love...and the word "marriage" has entered the conversation.

It seems like, in some ways, this *looks* like courting, and in other ways it's definitely dating. I actually think if they'd been courting with the intention of deciding whether the other person was potential marriage material, they wouldn't have started dating in the first place...because it's too scary to commit to something like that at the outset. It seems to me that their hearts would be less protected if they have marriage in mind from the very beginning. Then it's like they're committing to something they don't even know very well yet. I understand that courting isn't *supposed* to mean that you've committed yourself from the outset, but, honestly, to even bring the word marriage into the equation at first is to put pressure on the relationship and make it carry more weight than it might otherwise. It, in fact, makes the heart more vulnerable.

Yet, this relationship between Vespera & Novio also looks a lot different from a typical high school dating relationship. It's almost entirely in their maturity, though. They see each other as real people, as honest friends. What distinguishes their relationship from other relationship is not just that they hold hands and kiss. They *know* each other. They've taken the time to hear each other, to keep each other's secrets, to talk about the things that matter. I don't see that a whole lot among teenagers. I think when people say they don't want their kids to date, they're talking about dating that is mostly based on a physical relationship. Why can't we teach kids that dating is something different without the pressure of courting?

And, it seems to me that if we expected teens to treat each other in a more mature way in dating relationship, they just might. The very fact that we don't have very high expectation from "dating" may just be what leads to the problem.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Schooling & Socialization

It seems to me that everything gets blamed on home schooling if a child was home schooled, but nothing gets blamed on public schooling if a child went to public school. I mean, if people go to public school & end up in jail, nobody blames public school for their lack of proper socialization. And I don't think they should. The problem has a lot more to do with family & community than it does with school. In the same way, if a child is home educated, it hardly seems fair to blame all their "issues" on the fact that they didn't go to public school. It's entirely possible, though, that family & community bear some responsibility for those issues. For example, I knew many young women in my college who were home schooled prior to college. All of them seemed to have more "uniqueness" than the rest of us. I viewed that as a positive thing. They marched to the beat of their own drum & were less affected by social pressure. On the other hand, some of them were incredibly naive. This isn't the fault of home schooling any more than it would be the fault of public schooling if they had been to public school. It just means their parents didn't provide them with adequate information in some areas of life...typically sexuality, often political issues & societal concerns. People often think of this as the result of home schooling because it's harder to get out of public school without finding some things out. But, really, it's a parenting issue, not a schooling issue. And, honestly, I think it's disturbing that we expect public schools to fill in the gaps wherever parents fail. If we really think that kids who go to school are better socialized *because* they went to school we aren't taking enough responsibility as parents for the socialization of our children.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Extra Family

I'm living a new and much expanded life since last Wednesday afternoon. My best friend, who taught me to be brave and authentic in high school, who was the Maid of Honor in my wedding & I in hers, and whose children call me "Auntie" found herself in sudden need of child care until the end of the school year. So, here I am with her 5yr old twins & Mane all day long every day. Some moments I think I've lost my mind (or I'm going to soon). Other moments I can't believe how smoothly everything works when there's three of them. In all moments, I'm grateful for this opportunity. In some way, it's exciting to know we'll always have these eight weeks in our memories...the time her girls spent with Auntie & Mane. I am conscious that we're laying down memories, maybe a beautiful, differently colored patch in the tapestry of all of our lives.

Sometimes I sit here remembering them all in their smaller incarnations. I remember the first trip our families took together. I called to make reservations for the state park guest house, and the person asked me, "How many people?" I said, "Four adults and three one-yr-olds." She paused and then said something like, "Well, at least they're outnumbered." The next year was even more fun with three 2-yr-olds! And we sat around imagining them at 15, sleeping together out in the living room & watching movies.

It is good to have good friends.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Learning Songs

In case anybody is interested OR in case anybody has more ideas for me, we've been using songs to learn things. As I already mentioned, Mane loves The Case of the Missing Part of Speech and all the accompanying songs. We also sing:

The Days of the Week ~ to the tune of "Where is Thumbkin" :

These are all the
Days of the Week
Sing With Me
Sing With Me

Sunday, Monday, Tuesday,
Wednesday, Thursday, Friday
A Day to Play

The Months of the Year ~ to the tune of "10 Little Indians" :

March and April,
May, June, July,
And September,
And December,
These are the months of the year.

The Seven Continents ~ to the tune of "He's Got the Whole World" :

He's got North & South America in His Hands,
He's got Europe, Asia, Africa in His Hands,
He's got Australia & Antarctica in His Hands,
He's got the whole world in His Hands.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

So Grateful

I am so grateful this morning for the lives of my children, for the strong, steady presence of my husband. I was reminded this week, again, of the fleetingness of life, and I need to take a moment to be thankful.

I am thankful for another day to see the big brown eyes of both of my girls,
to touch the warm hands of Vespera, to feel her thick coarse hair in between my fingers, to hear her voice murmuring in Spanish over the phone. I find that I frequently give thanks for their personalities, but today I am grateful for those things that are tangible: Vespera's fuzzy arms, her warm furry belly, the curve of her back, her dimple...Mane's honey hair curling down her back, her wiggly teeth, her small hands. I love to feel both of them throw their arms around me, snuggle into me for warmth and protection.

And my Mango. Mmmm...Mango. I am grateful to have another day to look into his eyes and see him, so steady and serious, so clear and playful. Today is another day to hold those warm hands, touch the curling hair behind his ears, stand cheek to cheek and heart to heart.

Today I am grateful to be human and to live with these other human clay creatures, to be in their physical presence, to touch them and breathe them in, to hear and see them. I am aware today of just how fortunate I am. And I know that this won't last forever. So, I commit today to walk gratefully through this time. God, make me attentive, let me live each moment fully, let me live gently and humbly in relationship with these precious people.