Back In China 8 Holding Tight/Letting Go

Originally posted on August 7, 2011

Day 8   Wednesday, July 6, 2011

I think I mentioned that our apartment did not have Internet, which was difficult for us since we are used to having high speed connections anywhere we go in the States.  We would go to the lovely Harvest coffee shop, owned by a friend of ours, and connect each morning as soon as they opened at nine each morning.  The coffee shop was designed to be a gathering place for friendship and conversation between foreigners and Chinese, and had been very successful. It was also a nice place for our kids to go after school and order their macchiato/frappacinos or whatever those super sweet coffee drinks are called.

We usually had an hour before we had to take off for the day’s appointments.   We were enjoying our morning coffee while catching up on emails, and Joe would share the news as he read it, while I wrote to the kids. It was weird to hear that Casey Anthony was found not guilty while here in China.  Joe said he can see why Americans become disengaged from other parts of the world, because here in China, no one seems to care about Casey Anthony, or even know who she is.

Today we would go to our old school and finish up the fajitas, and share the dishes with the school staff who were there, a skeleton crew of mostly Chinese.  Maybe they would not enjoy the bbq pork or the fajitas, but Joe would, so he was coming with me to enjoy his Southern/Mexican/Chinese lunch and a coke zero in the semi-air conditioned school lunch room.  I would have to say goodbye to Xiao Shi, the baker, and Shi Liu, the cook, and Du Lan, our school’s administrator. That’s the part I dreaded, but I pretended that part would not be so bad just so the day’s fun would not be ruined.

Since I knew that our school building would be torn down, I took one last sweep of the place, and saw many ghosts that made me a bit sentimental.  I went to the auditorium where Pres had played the old Russian in You Can’t Take It With You (good title for my thoughts that day).  He would throw in a Mother Russia in a most funny/authentic/campy accent anytime he could, and make us all smile.  Jack was the romantic lead in Annie Get Your Gun and sang solos for the first time, seemingly unafraid. I was always amazed that he could just get up and do that, and he did quite well. As I stood in the empty unlit auditorium, I could see Jack on the stage singing My Defenses Are Down, (also a good song for my thoughts that day).  I also recalled the yoga class some of us teachers took on that stage, with a Chinese PE teacher who was so thin and so limber, that she did not seem human.  At that time Jack was in his first year at West Point, and had recently had a painful breakup with his high school girl friend.  In addition to the rigors of West Point, he was experiencing the sadness that goes along with these matters of the heart. Often as I did my exercises on that stage, I would pray for Jack, and sometimes cry, thinking of him being so far away and hurting so much.  As I looked at the stage today, I remembered that he is happily married now to Joanna, whom he had admired the whole time he lived in China, and how she was really his first love, and now they belonged to each other.  I also thought about his deployment to Iraq tomorrow, and suddenly wished we were back in the old high school days, and my handsome Jack was up there singing his solo again.

You may wonder how I could go through this normal day in China with him deploying the next day.  Well first of all, as anyone who has lived in China knows, there is no normal day there.  And secondly, it wasn’t that I did not think of it all the time, both today and during his deployment. But as military families know, sitting in a room wringing your hands brings no comfort either…so you keep busy and you pray silently…all day long. But yes, throughout this day, and all other days, my son’s deployment was always on my mind.

By 1:30 we were back at the Harvest to meet our friend Patti who had been on our team and now teaches English at a local college. Patti arrived earlier, as evidenced by her swank Giant bike parked out front.  When I asked her how she managed to keep her nice bike (think Cadillac) she said she had three locks on it. I had a Giant bike once myself, with two baskets, a bell, and a drink holder! I was stylin’ indeed as I rode to school each day.  When it was stolen, I switched to a bike that was more like a Pinto.  Yes, hard to go from a Cadillac to a Pinto in one move.  I was still surprised that the bike thieves did not toss her bike in their van and cut the locks later.

Stealing is a huge problem in China.  Bikes are stolen every single day, and hauled off in huge trucks to the countryside where they are resold. Some of us tried to think of deterrents such as painting our bikes with the number 4 which represents death.  I thought of putting itching powder on my bike seat for a fleeting moment.  I quickly realized that 1) this would not really be a deterrent since the thieves don’t sit on the bikes; they just load them into a van, and 2) I could not ride my own bike up to the time it would be stolen. (Let’s keep brainstorming kids!)  Many of our Chinese and American friends told us that they just gave up on having a bike, because you would only have it for so long and then it would be stolen.  I had to buy a new bike every year in the last four years we lived in China, and this got to be very frustrating.  We used to joke that we would like to find the used bike store, and buy back our old bikes.  The stealing and the chance to buy a car for the first time are the reasons that you don’t see as many bikes on the road now.  You see lots of pedestrians and cars. So somewhere out in the Chinese country side is a happy rider ringing my bell, using my two baskets, probably with a small child in the front one, and carrying their Chinese tea in an old glass jar in my drink holder. They are probably smiling too.

Patti and I exchanged news and tips about teaching ESL adults, and how to make things more fun in classes where students are accustomed to sitting and listening. This is fact was my dissertation topic for my recent Ph.D.  In addition to being shy to speak up in class, many of the Asian students we have taught (Chinese, Japanese, and Korean) can tell you what a past perfect tense is, but cannot carry on a conversation in English. So Patti and I are trying to shake things up a bit.  We laughed and shared old memories and Patti gave me some great ideas to use when I teach in Beijing next week.  We had to say goodbye to go meet our friend Jennifer for dinner downtown so we ran to catch the Number 2 bus.

Downtown Dinner with Friend in High Places

Joe, ZJ & I went downtown to one of the large hotels to meet a friend who works there.  Our friend Jennifer had to finish some work so she settled us in a cozy spot in the lobby and we sipped on our cold drinks as we waited for her. ZJ had some very good questions, and since the three of us did not have a lot of time to be alone that week, she asked them during that relaxing hour in the lobby.  We talked a lot about culture in particular, and what types of things foreigners who want to work in China should know. We appreciated her candor, which was earned by over ten years of friendship.  She also wondered why American Christianity is connected with so many rules, giving the impression that rule minding is the heart and soul of it, something my husband and I rail against.  It was the type of conversation that one does not have often with Chinese friends, but ZJ had worked with a lot of Americans and had many firsthand observations about them. I guess you could call her a researcher of sorts, and indeed she was doing research for a project for her master’s degree. I hope she finds some answers to share with us.

When Jennifer was done with work, she came and sat with us for a bit.  She changed out of her very official looking uniform and instead wore her Capri jeans and pretty white blouse. She now blended in to the other hotel guests.  She wanted to treat us to the hotel buffet since she gets a few discounts each year.  This was an unexpected surprise, and the four of us descended on the pork, fish, sushi, soups, salads and desserts.  Of course there was plenty of fungus available (mushrooms) and Joe advised Jennifer that tomorrow in staff meeting they might want to change that name.

It had been four years since the four of us could be together, and even though the food was endless and wonderful, we were so wrapped up in each other’s company that it played second fiddle.  When you only get to be together for such a short time, it can be ruined if your mind drifts off to the fact that at the end of the evening, you will all separate and no one knows when you can be together again. My mind would drift there throughout the evening, but I reined it back in, for I didn’t want to miss a second of the wonderful present by worrying about the very near future. That is a hard thing to do when you want to extend such precious times, and everyone is aware of the temporary nature of the visit. But we managed to cover all topics, and ended up by discussing how we could pray for these two remarkable young women, who I miss so much even as I write this.

After dinner, probably to extend the visit and to avoid a sad goodbye, Jennifer took us on a tour of the hotel, and we ended up in the spa. This place is a tribute to design, for you would not even know you were still in the same hotel, but you felt that you were in a peaceful Nirvana-like sanctuary. The lighting was low, the furniture was minimalist but comfortable, and the music and candles finished the atmosphere of calm. We went into a massage room just to look it over, but the masseuse offered to give Joe and me a brief massage in the chair, and we took her up on it.  After being out in the heat all day it felt so good to have a professional work out all the day’s tension.  We were tired and ready to go home, but not ready to say goodbye to our dear friends. We walked out to the busy street full of people and cars, and scooters, and bikes and kissed these lovely women goodnight and goodbye.  We rode home tired, misty-eyed, relaxed, and happy for all the good things that our friends had experienced.  We wondered when we would see them again, and hoped that they would take us up on our offer to host them in America. Thus the end of yet another bittersweet day, with laughter and tears coming at us so fast we went home to a restful sleep that comes when emotions are running full force all day and exhaustion ensues.  I wondered what emotions I would feel tomorrow on this roller coaster ride of being a mom…in China…and saying so many hellos and goodbyes.


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Ed Hague Has Left the Building

Ed passed into the arms of his heavenly Father last Tuesday, Aug. 18th.  I had written this piece before he passed, but could not seem to post it. Maybe I just wanted to pretend that he was not dying…maybe it hurt to know that Ed would not post his comments here anymore, as he regularly did.  I don’t know if people in heaven can see and hear us, but if they can I know Ed would say to me “Don’t cry Lizard; I am so much more than fine now; one day you will see it for yourself.”  One day indeed.  “I am the Resurrection and the Life; he who believes in Me will never die.”  John 11:25

Written on August 12, 2015

My dear friend Ed is dying. Not metaphorically, but really dying. Technically he has been for a while I guess-outlasting his cancer by a year or two, according to the experts. But as we know, Ed has never been one to do things on the typical path.

Ed has had a very rough time with all the pain, both physical, emotional and spiritual. He has wrestled with his God whom he loves with all the power that a human heart, mind, soul and strength can muster.  And in my opinion he has done it quite well, much better than I would, trust me. Those who know and love him have watched him do it with grace, dignity (ok, most of the time) and lots of humor-some which may be offensive to those with more delicate sensibilities.  To those who know and love him however, his humor is quite endearing for its boldness and honesty.

He has a blog, We Do Not Lose Heart which is always worth the read. In addition to being an excellent teacher, Ed it turns out, is a wonderfully gifted writer.  When working with a patient who was also dealing with cancer I would suggest his blog to them with this caveat: Ed is a pastor but he is not a holy holy type. He is honest, bold, funny, and may seem irreverent.  He understands the human heart and shares some of his own-even the darker places. Ed knows that we are all sinners, but that a wonderful God loves us and has mercy on us. He is a grateful, redeemed son, and therefore even in his suffering he does not curse God.  This is one reason that people love Ed.  And in a strange and surprising way, but not ironic when you think about our God, Ed has helped strangers know more about God and His great love for us as he has been slowly dying these last few years.

I first met Ed when we were all in our twenties, newly married, and young in our Christian walk (so young that we thought we were mature).  I still recall his visit to our Roswell home so many years ago after attending a pastor’s conference at Perimeter Church, and talking to him about why he would be a great pastor for our denomination.  Years later when we moved to Athens, as luck would have it (my word for providence, and if this offends you-maybe you won’t enjoy Ed’s blog so much), Ed was our pastor.  Under his teaching (along with some other great teachers) I learned that being respectable was not what Christianity was all about, what it meant to acknowledge myself as a sinner, and just how beautiful God’s forgiveness was.  He helped me and my family understand the love of God, and for that I will always be grateful to him.

But there is so much more. He made me laugh.  I love funny people, and Ed was very funny-but not in a let me tell you a joke kind of way. He was funny because he was extremely smart, and a keen observer of human nature.  Sometimes his humor caught me off gaurd, which made me love him more. It still makes me smile to recall one such incident years and years ago.  Joe was away at a conference and our toilet had backed up. Ed lived down the street and knew how to fix just about anything so I called him and together we took the toilet apart and got it fixed.  As I handed him tools and helped him remove the toilet from its base, I repeatedly told him how sorry I was to involve him in this mess. His reply to me:  “Don’t worry Lizard, I am used to dealing with people’s crap.” Caught me off guard-and I still am laughing about it. Good one Ed!

Another thing I loved about Ed was his honesty.  I interviewed him for a book I am writing on cancer patients.  His comments were insightful, and bold, and as always refreshing. One of the first things he told me was “Liz, we’re all dying.” That’s how Ed rolled-cutting to the chase but doing it in a loving way.  Talking with Ed always made me challenge my own preconceived notions and self-righteousness, but not in a way that made me ashamed. This is the part of Ed that I thought was the most like Jesus.  Not many are able to pull this off but he did.  I think it is because he counted himself in with the sinners and was so grateful that God found him and redeemed him. And he made it safe to say you were a sinner too.

In a recent chat I told Ed he was much bolder than I could be, and I admired that. He told me I was much kinder than he could be, and back at me.  But of course he knew he wasn’t really that bold and I knew I wasn’t really that kind. But we both understood that God was at work in our lives so that they could be used to glorify Him, despite our flaws. With Ed one could admit to flaws without any embarrassment.

If you want to know more of Ed and his God, read his blog.  He explains it all so much better than I could.  I know I will read all the posts again and again.  Today as I reflect on his life and ministry I already miss him, though he is still with us, in hospice care.

See you in heaven, Lizard     Gabriel Faure-Requiem:  ‘In Paradisum’

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Mom Lessons: Forgive Us Our Trespasses…

Some years ago, in 2004 actually, I wrote a poem for my firstborn, and read it again this morning as she has just turned thirty.  A lot has happened in the last ten years–enough for a few more blog posts, and maybe even a book…but here are the cliff notes till then. When your firstborn arrives you are filled with gratefulness, wonder, and such fierce love that you never knew you had.  And it grows, even when the bad times come. And for our firstborn those times did indeed come.

She started out so happy and sweet, and then for a number of years took a turn that was painful for us to watch.  The details are not important, but needless to say she found life to be difficult for a number of reasons, and it made us sad to see her struggle and not know what to do to help her. So we prayed a lot. We also cried, wrung our hands, worried instead of slept at night, got angry, took turns being the good cop/bad cop, and generally begged God to help her find her way.  And He did; today she is a happy, productive, and spiritually-minded adult. She found her way back to God, and the things she enjoyed as a young one:  peace, security, purpose, artistic talent, and the knowledge that God loves her and has a plan for her life.

I thank God for her every day, and for how God used my Prodigal to teach me some important things, things that my other children could not teach me.  (new parents–you thought you were teaching your little one–but surprise! They teach you, make you learn about yourself, and grow–the circle of life, Jack.)  No, I learned other wonderful things from my other kids–things that I cherish each day, and that help me get through life. But from my Nat-I learned about forgiveness, and the great love of God.  And for that I shall always be grateful.

Forgive me, but pop culture must intrude here for a brief moment.  It sounds as if I am glad I had a Prodigal and went through so many tears. Well…I would of course have preferred the easy road.  An old Dick Van Dyke show episode entitled Big Mouth comes to mind.  (It aired on Sept. 15, 1965 and was said to be Mary Tyler Moore’s favorite episode, and it certainly is mine.)  Her character, Laura Petrie accidentally tells a television audience that her husband’s boss, Alan Brady is bald!  Later when Laura meets Alan to apologize, he admits to her that it is actually a relief to have his secret come out. She quickly says  so you’re happy I told? to which Allan replies along the lines of not only do we have to forgive them for their destruction, but we have to be happy…. That episode still makes me smile, and when I watched it in 1965 I had no idea that I would think of it during our sad years.

No, I am not glad one of my children had to go through so many hard times; but God does not waste anything; He uses all things, the good, the bad, and the ugly to show us things about ourselves and about Him. These things, if taken to heart, can have a deep and lasting positive effect on us.  Or…as happens probably just as often, they can make us bitter.  I chose the positive side, only because my difficult years of infertility had already provided me a few rounds of bitterness, and I learned that it never makes one feel better.

Before all our trouble, I thought I understood forgiveness but I now realize that I was only skimming the surface till the deep waters overwhelmed me.  As I learned how to forgive, I also came to see my own need for forgiveness, and how freely it had been given to me by God through His son Jesus’ death on the cross.  I could forgive because I had been forgiven.  Recently I watched a great & funny video on the Unmerciful Servant. I have to say, it hit a little too close to home. Instead of thinking how ungrateful my kid was for all we had done for her, I came to see that I too was a Prodigal; I often did the exact same thing–taking God’s forgiveness for granted and doing what I please, with little care of how my thoughts and actions effected others, myself, and what message I was sending to my heavenly Father (who incidentally had my number the entire time).  I came to see myself as one who had been forgiven much, and therefore I can and must forgive others–even those closest to me who “should know better.”

I also saw the need for my Prodigal to forgive me for my many missteps during those sad years. (My mom friends and I often commented that so many parenting issues are not covered in the mom manual we received when our babies were born.)  I would not want to do it all over again and “fix” it, because I would probably just make different mistakes, overcompensating for past ones.  No, my Prodigal and I are at peace now, and it gives me great joy to see how God changed both of us from the sad years.  We have learned a lot about forgiveness and about appreciating each other for whatever time we have remaining in this fallen, but often still beautiful world.

So Happy Birthday my Precious Nat– I think I owe you a new poem called Forgive Me. And don’t worry-I have plenty of material, mostly from my own mistakes. :).

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Good Grief

Sometimes I write about our time in China, and the China peeps add their  “Oh yeahs” to my posts. Sometimes the topic is mothering, and what I learned so many years ago with three little eager faces looking at me with trust, and dependence, and needs that I pretty much figured I could meet (boy, was I wrong).  And the moms say “Oh yeah.”  I could write about campus ministry, or teaching, or my new career as a nurse. More “Oh yeahs” could be elicited. But no, tonight I am writing about the old days at Penn State, where so many of us were ardent, young believers who had no idea of what was waiting for us in grown-up land.

The impetus for this post is the loss of one of our own, from cancer, just a few short weeks  ago. There is a kinship in the prayer requests, and emails, and fb posts as we all gathered in cyberspace to pray, weep, encourage, and be the body of Christ for this family–even if we had not checked in with each other for so many years.  The fellowship of love and support that we experienced so many years ago is still there–even if some have experienced some pretty rocky roads.  So I pulled out an old Chuck Girard song,  Love Song and began reminiscing. Love Song was a big hit back in those days, and I was carried back to a different time–one that my kids know so little about, and that until the advent of cyberspace, one that is full of long-lost friends, dear brothers and sisters in the Lord, people who I grew up with, if you will.

We were at times a wild and crazy bunch in that we came from all backgrounds, and personalities, and denominations, and tendencies, and preferences within the practice of Christianity.  Sometimes we were “zealous without knowledge”, sometimes we guilt-tripped one another into action, sometimes we were hypocritical, jealous, and immature. Sometimes we were on power trips and were legalistic. Duh-were were college kids, and we were impressionable, emotional, and checking out new things, while leading Bible studies with other impressionables. So again, duh.

But many times, more often than not if memory serves, we were encouraging one another, praying with and for each other, weeping with those who weep, rejoicing with those who rejoice, studying God’s Word together, worshiping together, and enjoying each other’s company. We gathered at 321 Fraternity Row during the week to take our turn to cook for/flirt with the guys who lived in the Crusade House, or on Friday nights to hear a talk and sing together, or to pray at an all night prayer meeting. ( I was never sure if praying all night was better, but I enjoyed the first hour or two, and stayed because my friends did. Maybe like Linus & the Great Pumpkin, I did not want to jinx it for the rest of the group.)

The Friday night talks were often about being committed to the Lord, and/or to full-time Christian service, and again, I hoped I was committed to Him, but many times I hoped no one would find out that I was not as committed as the person sitting next to me.  Years later after going to Africa, and Japan, and then much later to China with our family I would think back to those talks, and how I both appreciated them, and forgive me, but made a little bit of fun of them as well. (I am an irreverent jokester if nothing else.)  I recall one where we were asked (by someone we all love dearly-so forgive my mocking) if we were willing to be made willing to go into Christian service, and I told someone I was willing to be made willing to be made willing. That was the best I could do.

As I got older I gained more of a broad perspective on the Christian walk, or to be more accurate, I focused less on the actual walk and more on the Lord Himself, and that seemed to be a better way for me to live a holy yet still very flawed life. I concentrated more on the bold and unbounding love of God as evidenced by His giving His Son as a sacrifice for my sin. I became overwhelmed by the goodness and love of God for me-finding it at times incomprehensible. Behold what manner of love the Father as given unto us, that we should be called the sons of God. Notice the NIV; it has the word lavished in it–gotta love that!  But the growth post Penn State did not mean that I did not learn a great deal from that time, and that those people are not still very near and dear to my heart.

The remains of that watershed time for many of us are a few deep and lasting friendships, and lots of acquaintances that make us smile when we remember them, even though we have been out of touch. The surprise email from someone we have never corresponded with, but we remember fondly, makes us want to keep it in our inbox,  because the connection is still there. As we linked up in cyberspace over our friend’s passing, I hoped that if there were any unresolved conflicts in our little group, or even resentment toward God Himself, it would melt away with gratefulness for the gift of His love and the gift of each other, given to our rag-tag group so many years ago. I hoped that our friend’s passing would be a wake up call that yes, we are all going to leave this world some day, and that God would use it in our lives, in whatever way He saw fit.  And I thought our departed friend would smile at that, as He now sits at the feet of Jesus, perhaps strumming on his guitar.

Many of our group have had some pretty difficult situations. Some have lost children, jobs, spouses via death or divorce, health, and some have lost their faith. Some are angry at God, and at Christians, and have distanced themselves from us.

We are now aging baby boomers, and have health issues, and are seeing and will see each other pass from this world as we recently did with this particular brother in Christ. But…no matter what life throws at us, those who are loved by God will one day live with Him. For our brother Doug, that day has come.  As I chatted with an old Penn State friend about it, we both agreed that this person’s real life has finally begun, and that it was comforting to know that all of us will one day be together in His presence. The belief forged so many years ago, of God redeeming His people, is real, and not a college security blanket. It is not any less true just because it is comforting. It is not a trite thing we say to one another–it is the deep-seated belief of all true SCOJAs.

“Don’t let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. There are many rooms in my Father’s house. If there weren’t, I wouldn’t have told you that I am going away to prepare a place for you, would I? And since I’m going away to prepare a place for you, I’ll come back again and welcome you into my presence, so that you may be where I am.”

So to my beloved Penn State brothers and sisters, I send my love and my deep appreciation for all you taught me and all the love and laughter you brought to my life. And if I don’t see you now…see you on the other side when I check into my mansion, and get my sleeping bag unrolled.  

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Mom Lessons: Delayed Gratification…A Lost Art?

I began this post some months ago…and it is coming soon.  Have patience dear readers…I promise it is coming.

Okay, on March 20 I began and here I am on July 4th finishing up! If that ain’t delayed gratification I don’t know what is. Perhaps I can share the reason it took me so long, as I often say, not as an excuse, but merely as an explanation.  It is difficult to approach some topics (modesty, promiscuity, moderation) without sounding like a fuddy duddy, square, school marm.  But after much thought I realized that telling folks that delaying gratification is often a good thing to do is not going to be popular on any level. So I said to myself, “Self, grab that chocolate bar and get to writing!”  Seriously, I have no chocolate bar in hand but now you know my weakness.  In my recent career switch into the world of nursing, I noticed that there were many warnings about work place drug abuse. As I count and enter the narcotics, it never occurs to me to be tempted to abuse these drugs…but I often am glad that the med dispense unit does not contain my drug of choice, chocolate,  or I am sure the pharmacy would be tracking me down.

Stay Calm

But I digress….delayed gratification truly is a lost art. And who is it that tells us that we need to have what we want NOW? Advertisers, who stand to make money via the gratification of our desires.  But they cannot take all the blame. No, long before we are watching TV we can be a rather demanding lot.  And who might be the ones to put a curb on the gratification monster? Why good old mom and dad of course.  Mom is mostly at bat as she is often the primary care giver (but not always). So what does this look like?

Imagine an everyday scene in a home with a baby. The baby is fussing and wanting something. Maybe they are even old enough to be asking for it, in their own little language (one that mom and dad probably understand).  So what do you do? This is such a simple little tip that most readers will probably send me a big DUH in the comments section. However sometimes we parents respond before we have time to think.  I beg you, resist the urge to yell, “I’m coming, I’m coming!” in a voice that confirms the little one’s take that the woobie, i-cream, poon, or whatever must be in their hot little hands immediately or heads will roll. Trust me, this will take some practice and some resisting of natural urges, but calmly walk, don’t run, and say in a normal voice, “Did you need your spoon? Here you go.”  Be matter of fact, even if you feel stressed inside. Your baby learns about the big wide world from you, and if you present a demeanor that says “all is well” they pick up on that. Babies are not impervious to your tone, your language, and your general way of acting. Like little sponges they are absorbing cues and notions about how things should be.  So that is a small but good beginning on delaying gratification. But what else?

Learning to Wait

So you have decided not to run in a panic at each little utterance of things gone missing. Great! Now let’s move on to learning how to wait.  Waiting is out of fashion. Maybe that is because we used to have to do a lot more of it back in the day (I am allowed to use this expression because I am not a twenty something).  We had to wait for our parents to pick us up without cell phones, we waited for buses, again without cell phones, and we waited for Christmas or our birthday to get a gift or go out to dinner. These days we may still have to wait at times. When our computers run slow, we grouse and our stomachs may churn. My favorite is the sigh I get when getting off an elevator by the college kid waiting to get on. I always want to give them a short mini-lecture about the laws of physics or etiquette (their choice) in a Sheldon Cooper style. Of course I say nothing, but I want to ask “Did my use of the elevator upset you in some way dearie?”

The thing is, waiting is a part of life and waiting for something you want often adds to the joy of actually receiving it.  Saving up for a car or an outfit or a vacation is still necessary. Throwing down the plastic may get you your stuff quicker but there is often a price to pay, especially if you do not have any actual money.  Parents, even if you have money to burn, I beg you, resist the urge to buy things your kid wants just because he wants them and to buy them RIGHT NOW!  They will not truly appreciate the value of something if it is always instantly given to them.

I know a lot of kids so don’t assume I am talking about yours. This one group of kids does not get a lot of stuff that they want. Oh they are well fed, and taken care of in the necessity dept. but in this family wants and needs are not one and the same. And they do get some of their wants, so please do not overreact and call DFACS. However what I notice about this group of kids is that they are delighted when they do get something and so appreciative. It is sweet to see it. I know another group of kids who get everything they wish for, and once one of them asked me to buy him/her something when we were out at a mall.  I was taken aback, but said to them in my most friendly but no way voice, ” I don’t ever buy kids things when they ask me to.”  The thing is, even if I did buy something for them, I knew it would not be appreciated–this group was bored!  Getting everything you want when you want it does not end up helping one cope with life.

The same goes for waiting for someone or for something to happen. It is sometimes necessary to wait, and to do so without raising one’s pulse and blood pressure.  I did some research on the physiological aspects of impatience and not surprisingly, found that it has an impact on one’s health. See this article if you like reading scholarly journals, (or if you are too impatient, just take my word for it.) Learning how to wait without whining, fussing, complaining, or having a hand-held device still seems to be a good life skill.

One of my favorite movies Captains Courageous” is a great story of the un-spoiling if you will of a spoiled rich kid played by Freddie Bartholomew, by the rough and tough but kind captain played masterfully by Spencer Tracy. Though made in 1937 it is a primer on how to bring about change in someone who is used to getting his way most of the time.

On the other hand some parents seem to think it is ok to exasperate their children by making them wait all the time for everything, and this is not at all my suggestion.  Somewhere between waiting all the time and never waiting is the perfect balance.  And now I must away–I have guests waiting (after all it is the 4th of July.)

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Mom Lessons: Eat, Sleep, and Be Wary

When you first become a mom, you have no idea about…well about so very many things (but that is ok).  You probably will read, consult, pray, worry, think, reflect, process, and then eventually decide on some system or non-system to use with your newborn that fits you and your family.

Last year several young expectant moms asked me to write about newborn care, but I put off writing this post for many months for several reasons. One reason has to do with the strong emotions that the schedule vs. demand feeding debates elicit, and (frankly I do not care which system you choose, as long as I don’t have to babysit). This post therefore will be divided into three parts:  an examination of the debate, Dr. Denmark’s rationale for feeding and sleeping schedules, and a suggestion that eventually all moms have to be able to distinguish between wants and needs, and summon the fortitude to listen to some whining.

The Debate

I did not have the internet when we had our little ones (I know–people actually raised children without it), but as you know I had Dr. Denmark, who was an advocate of breast feeding,  and putting newborns on a feeding and sleeping schedule; that’s what we did, and it worked pretty nicely (although we bottle fed.)  Had my pediatrician been convinced that feeding on demand is best, I would have probably done that (if the reasons seemed equally sensible to me).  Whatever system you choose, you can find tons of information about the particulars on the internet. Sometimes you can find some pretty sensible comments from both sides, but there are often emotionally charged comments. For example, I am hard pressed to read an article from the demand feeding camp that does not have the word rigid in front of the word schedule.  However, if you think about the way the world works–whether it is transportation, sunshine, TV, work hours, or even meal times with the non-newborn crowd, the world is on a schedule for many important and non-important things. We don’t say–I need to check that rigid bus schedule, or let me see when the rigid Creator is allowing the moon to be full.  No, we accept a certain amount of regularity in the natural and non-natural world. The obligatory use of the word rigid rather than a more neutral word such as regular does give one’s feelings about the topic away. To be sure, you will never see an author post in favor of a rigid schedule (not even here.) When a mom I had mentored bragged to me that they refused to feed their baby at 9:55, but made them wait till 10 on the dot, I cringed as she smiled proudly (leading me to see that people, not schedules, can be rigid.) Unfortunately mentoring can create monsters, but I came to learn that so much of mothering reveals our own personality traits-yes, the good, the bad, and the ugly.

Dr. Denmark’s Rationale

One concern from the demand mom camp seems to be about the psychological harm that will surely ensue if a baby is crying and comfort in the form of food is not offered. These moms have a point worth considering, and maybe us rigid schedulers would do well to consider it. We did have to let the babies cry a bit each day, but Dr. Denmark explained that this was actually good for a newborn as it helped to expand the alveoli in their lungs, and that the crying “workout” was actually good for their circulation, as it gets the blood pumping. We did check in on them, talk to them, sing to them, pat them, and pick them up, but yes, we did let them cry. Many years later I learned that excessive crying may interfere with the closing of the foramen ovale  for some infants, which makes me wonder why something would be good for the lungs but bad for the newborn heart.  Still researching this one, but as some of you know, offering food for crying does not always work. And overfeeding can upset a baby’s stomach, which can lead to…well, crying.  I will continue to look into this. Obviously, I do not think that letting a baby cry some each day is dangerous or child abuse, but I will grant that it is not a pleasant thing to listen to.  (You may notice that no one has a screaming infant ring tone.)

For others the main concern is about getting sufficient fluid and nutrition to the newborn, which was Dr. Denmark’s focus as well. To her food was more of a physiological event rather than an emotional one, although she did want eating time to be pleasant (no nagging or fighting at the table-more on that later).  She had studied gastric emptying time and saw that it took about 3-4 hours for a newborn stomach to completely empty, so she concluded that it would not be good to introduce fresh food into the stomach for 3-4 hours. (Many disagree with her on this time frame, saying it is more like 90 minutes-3 hours for the stomach to empty, especially for breast milk.) Again, her rationale was that the stomach does not need to be filled the minute it is empty; it is good for it to rest a bit between feedings.  That made sense to me as well.

As a person who grew up on a farm, Dr. Denmark used to tell me about how young animals could never get their mamas to feed them on demand,  and just had to wait. Sure enough when our mama cat had a litter of kittens the kids and their city slicker mom spent many hours watching them interact, and this was the case. The little ones would constantly bump up against their mama, meowing, but she would sit on her tummy, and just watch them, clean them, nuzzle them, but would not feed them until a set time, (presumably when she felt full). At that point, she would lay on her side, and let the kittens feed. Then like clockwork, she would turn back over till the next feeding. Dr. Denmark told me many times that humans would be better off if they would study animals and learn from them.

Dr. Denmark also compared feeding too often to adding dirty clothes to a washing machine in the middle of the cycle. She thought it best to run the full cycle before starting all over again.  Again, her patient explanation to me made sense-the food in the stomach is being processed with stomach acid to break it down, and adding a brand new batch of food into an already begun batch would delay the process of moving the food out of the stomach, as it held onto to the entire batch to start from the beginning.  To continue our washing machine analogy, it would be as if you added dirty clothes mid-cycle but this time, your washing machine is smart enough to know it, and instead of moving right along, it starts all over so the  newly added dirty clothes get the same start to finish process.  As you see, that brief explanation took about 5 minutes in Dr. Denmark’s office–I really did not pore over books or the web for hours or agonize about it. I simply went home and did what she said and it worked.

But…there are plenty of books, especially medical ones, that will tell you that a newborn must eat every 2 hours, and/or every hour, and if you prefer that route you will have lots of support.  In the end you will do what your gut tells you makes sense, as I did. And that is fine. Most moms end up with a system that is somewhere between letting their baby do anything they seem to want at anytime, to putting their baby on such a rigid schedule that they never eat at 9:59 instead of 10.

As far as sleep, Dr. Denmark was convinced that babies need a big long sleep at night, and regular naps during the day, and taught us to establish that from day one. She was the one who first mentioned circadian rhythms to me, and again, it made sense. The sleeping schedule dovetailed beautifully with the feeding schedule, and mom would be able to get some rest, and not upset her own circadian rhythm.  Years later when we returned from China, I found the one page, typed paper she gave me with the feeding and sleeping schedule on it and smiled at its simplicity.  I suppose she typed it herself-as the copy had the look of a 1940 typewriter. It is a paper that I now treasure and always will, even if newer science tells me I did it all wrong, (which I expect will happen.)

Eventually most moms find that some type of schedule will emerge, especially if there are other children in the home. Incidentally, Dr. Denmark did not feel that any age person should eat anytime they wish. She wanted moms to feed children nutritious meals, and give no snacks in between so they would actually be hungry for the good food Mom prepared. She also did not want their palates to be ruined for good food by the strong taste of junk food.  I have to say that I am glad she taught me that, as it has helped me develop better eating habits that I still use today. Now that there is an obesity epidemic among America’s young children, I see why she placed so much importance on not using food or juice as a pacifier. (Yes, no juice and no gold fish!).

As I said, Dr. Denmark believed that basing feeding and sleeping on physiology did not conflict with psychological needs; she felt that the two needs were not competing, but instead were connected, and could be addressed together to establish good habits that brought good health and harmony to the entire family. I always was amused when a tired new mom would complain about getting up in the night so many times, and when someone would suggest they put their baby on a schedule, they would quickly reply “Oh, I don’t mind.”  What was interesting to me about that (in addition to the complaining while simultaneously not minding) was that I knew Dr. Denmark would tell them that it is not good health-wise for either mom or baby to be up all night.  Mom can become so sleep deprived that safety becomes an issue the next day, and babies need a good long sleep.

Wants vs. Needs

So, how does a new mom distinguish between wants and needs?  Eventually we all have to acquire this skill. New moms learn their baby’s cry-and can often tell when they are tired, sick, hungry, or frightened.  As your baby gets older however, one day you may realize that your baby/toddler/young child is able to manipulate you and you will be surprised. Don’t be. It is not that they are deviously planning this in their crib, bragging about it to the other infants, or networking with infant gangs to get what they want-it is a simple behaviorist principle at work-when I push this button-this happens a lot so…let me push it again, and maybe…ok…every time I push it this happens….and voila! You have a bit of manipulation going on. Hey don’t feel bad…my 4 lb. fur baby can do it too. She has me trained to take her outside to use the bathroom 40 times each day, when really she just wants to bark at the squirrels. She does have a bladder the size of a thimble but seriously, 40 times? That dog has got my number.

The thing is, as you learn how to interact with your baby/child, and figure out that it is ok for you to be in control of some things, you discover that they may not always appreciate you for that.  In other words, at some point most moms (except half of the ones on Wife Swap) must be willing for their kids not to think they are groovy 24/7.

So there you go-young mom friends. Feel free to disagree, and to find others who say people like me are nuts, control freaks, out of date, or behind the research curve. I am sure in many aspects all of those apply. And as a researcher, I am keen to know of new developments in best practices for infant care, as I know Dr. Denmark would be. And finally, to the young moms who asked me to write about this, I am sorry your kids are already in middle school.

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Grace and Peace to My Fellow Bubble Boys

Long before Seinfeld created a very funny episode called Bubble Boy, which always comes to mind when the Moors  are mentioned (which is not often enough to my mind), I read about a real Bubble Boy in one of my mom’s magazines. I cannot recall if it was McCall’s or Ladies Home Journal; these were the two magazines that my and so many 60’s moms received each month. When we were very young we used to pore over the Betsy McCall cut-outs and fight over whose turn it was to get them. Having four sisters meant you had to wait a while to get a full collection, but we were still excited just to see the new outfits.  (I wonder if post cut-out kids can appreciate all the wonder and joy we got from such simple things; it seems funny now to think of it, but trust me-those cut-outs were a big deal! )

As I got older, I would glance at the cut-outs but move on to the stories. I have always been a sucker for a heart wrenching true story, and the Bubble Boy story was a great one.  At the time of course I could not see a metaphor in this young man’s story; I was merely captivated by his daily struggle living inside a bubble. I knew nothing of immune systems, germ theory, or aseptic technique. Being a young middle school kid at the time, I mostly wondered what he felt and thought each day, how he made friends, or fit in, why this happened to him, (and why it did not happen to me). I had not known much sorrow at this point in life, other than a stray dog who had decided not to return home after three weeks of residence on our back porch, losing my brand new purse after only having it for three days, or my many trips to the dentist. My life was pretty uncomplicated, revolving around family, school, friends, and church. After reading the article on the Bubble Boy, a lasting impression was left that there was a lot of sorrow out in the world that I had not been privy to. Ah the bliss of ignorance! Growing up always includes an awareness of the sorrows as well as the joys in life, and this I suppose is the reason most of us grown-ups smile wistfully when a little one says they cannot wait to grow up.

I thought of Bubble Boy lately because I have many grieving and/or worried people in my life at this time, probably due to my age. There is the newly diagnosed cancer patient, there is the cancer patient who is still fighting and making me laugh as he fights, there is the one who lost a beloved sibling, there is the young couple who lost a child, there is the older person who has had one health disaster on top of the other, there is the dedicated doctor who is now a cancer patient, there is the dearly missed brother-in-law who passed last summer,  there is the doctor who was killed while out jogging, there is the mother with a child in constant pain, and there are others who are lonely and wanting to marry, or who are desirous of children, or who need financial help, or who are worried to the point of sickness about someone they love.  I know these people and love them, and pray for them, but feel helpless to fix any of it. Let me rephrase; I am helpless to fix any of it.

Watching all of this happen around me makes me worry at times-when will it be my turn to suffer in this way (first-hand that is)? And when it comes how will I deal with it?  Will I wrestle with God in anger as some understandably do? Of course I will. Will I feel hopeless? Probably. Will I smile when others try to comfort me, but think that they don’t know what they are talking about? Maybe. Will I feel that others cannot understand my pain and mock their feeble attempts to soothe my suffering?  Probably. If nothing else I am a whiner at heart, so a hearty yes to all items.  I will probably reread C.S. Lewis’ A Grief Observed and revel in his honest rants about his sorrow. Sheldon Vanauken’s A Severe Mercy also comes to mind.

But what else is there for me?  If my weak faith in a sovereign, loving God still has enough power to create the tiniest flame–I will try to remember my earlier belief that God is good and that He has a plan for me.  If that tiny spark catches, I will fan that flame like there is no tomorrow, and invite others to fan it with me.  It will not be the Tinkerbell kind of faith, where we get enough TV watchers to clap their hands so Tink won’t die; no it will be more of painful surrender to continue to believe in the goodness and sovereignty of God, accompanied by the need to surround myself with others who also have that belief. C.S. Lewis speaks to me here:

 Not that I am (I think) in much danger of ceasing to believe in God. The real danger is of coming to believe such dreadful things about Him. The conclusion I dread is not ‘So there’s no God after all,’ but ‘So this is what God’s really like. Deceive yourself no longer.’
C.S. LewisA Grief Observed

In a sense, I am a Bubble Boy; I believe that all the things that happen to me are planned or permitted by a loving God; nothing that happens to me is an accident, even if it is a tragedy. All the bad things are not kept out of my bubble-but rather things that God permits to
pierce through. However nothing that happens to me takes Him by surprise. He is never caught off guard by what enters my life and then rushes into damage control.  That’s what we do. He is calm, and collected (but not cool-as the Bible shows us that he feels our sorrows very deeply.)  When tragedy strikes I usually fall apart. Just because I believe that God is good does not mean I don’t hit the panic button and rail on Him for a time.  Again C.S. Lewis said it much better than I can:

What do people mean when they say, ‘I am not afraid of God because I know He is good’? Have they never even been to a dentist?”

So yes, I believe He is good AND I am afraid of what He may permit to enter my bubble. I cannot pretend that I am not afraid of what may come, and even if I did fool you or myself, there is One I can never fool. So my fellow Bubble Boys–can we clap our hands together to say that God is still good and that He loves us? Not to make it true, but to support each other in our weakness because it is true, all evidence to the contrary. May I pray for you to have grace and peace during this difficult time?

There is no feel good/happy ending to such a post, but reality may offer some comfort.  I recall Isaiah’s description of Jesus. He was perfect– yet a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.  God the Father both planned and permitted horrible things to come into His bubble if you will, to suffer on the cross on our behalf. And by His wounds we are healed.

Finally a prayer for all of us Bubble Boys:

Dear God,

I really don’t like what You let happen to me; ok, who am I kidding?  I hate it. Hate it with all of my being to be honest.  And I am mad at You about it at times–really, really mad. I mean You not only hurt me, but have You seen what this is doing to my family?  Oh…wait…of course you do….forgive me…but the thing is…I just don’t understand why this is happening. There is no good in it from where I sit.

I still think if I understood why, I would feel better but perhaps that isn’t the case?  I know part of the why is that sin entered the world and with it, sickness and sadness. But that does not really help because deep down I still thought that if I loved You back, You would not let anything bad come. And now I see that is not at all true.  So…we seem to be at an impasse.  

Here is what I can do today. I cannot shout from the mountaintops that You are holy and good.  I wish I could. But as I sit quietly in my hospital room, kitchen, car, doctor’s office with my pain and sorrow my ever-present companions, I would like to ask You to help me to believe that You are good, and that You love me. And that You are fully aware of all my thoughts and pains and tears.  Can You help me to believe in You as you truly are?  Can You surround me with others to help me believe that?  I think that would help.

And one last thing…I almost forgot…I guess You know a little something about suffering.  While I am doing it under great protest, You did it willingly, on my behalf. I owe You many thanks even though I don’t fully comprehend what You did.  Even if I sound like an ingrate-and am often…thank You. 

Sincerely,  Your Bubble Boy (the whiny one)

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