Out of the Mouths of Babes — How My 3-Year Old Taught Me an Important Truth

iStock_000015987368XSmallI was deep in thought one day when my kids were very young.  I think Josh was barely 3 and Meg was still a baby.

I was worrying and fretting over a conversation I had with someone which went really, really poorly.  I was being honest and truthful, but the other person reacted in a way which was unexpected.  She got really mad at me.  The thought of someone really important being angry at me about something I said weighed heavily on my heart.  I kept replaying our conversation over and over, wishing for a different outcome.  I also continued to rehearse what I should have said and what I will say the next time I had an encounter with her.  I knew I was right about my convictions about the matter — which, today more than a decade later, I cannot clearly recall what — but still, I was fearful.

Fearful of letting somebody down.

Fearful of having someone upset with me.

Josh must have sensed that something was amiss.  I was not my usual cheerful self…or at least as cheerful as I usually try to be with only a few hours of sleep a night.  Maybe that’s the reason why this little tiff had turned into a major relational nightmare in my foggy, sleep-deprived mind.

As I mindlessly folded the laundry on my bed, Josh crawled up to join me.  He was never a really talkative child.  Even today, as a teenager, he still tends to be a young man of a few words.  He sat and watched me sigh between each piece of clothing that I folded. He handed me mismatched socks to pair up.

Josh had always been a sensitive and sympathetic child.  When he was in the church nursery and another baby was crying, he would always crawl over and try to console, usually by patting its back.  Someone’s pain becomes his own.  He is still a good listener, and he says that he wants to become a clinical psychologist or a therapist someday.  He can read people using his senses…his sixth sense, mostly.

I put the pile of laundry aside and sat down on the bed.  I wanted to get comfortable so I could really focus on rehashing the incident yet again.  And again.  You know, it takes a lot of energy to continue picking on your emotional scabs!

Suddenly, Josh ambled over the pile of laundry towards me.  He patted my back and said these words which I will never forget:

“Don’t be afwaid, mommy.  Don’t be afwaid.”

Don’t be afraid? How did he know that I was afraid? My little 3 year-old was reminding me in his little toddler way these words from the book of Isaiah:

So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand. (Isaiah 41:10)

How did he know this?  And how did he know that I needed to hear that statement at that very moment?  Did I ever tell him that there is nothing to fear?  I couldn’t recall if I had ever said those words to him myself, but somehow he knew in his heart that those were the words Mommy needed right there and then.

I knew right away that God was speaking to me through the mouth of my own babe, my toddler son Josh.  It was indeed exactly what I needed to hear, for I was starting to fear the failure of this relationship more than anything in life.  I was reminded that there truly is nothing to fear in this world, certainly not if God is with me.

From that moment on, my fear of disappointing a person began to slowly melt away.  In fact, it took several months and a lot of work to repair, but this relationship has been restored and has gotten even better now than ever.  It was also the beginning of my journey to tackle my people-pleasing nature which had dragged me down for far too long.  I also began to lean on God for his strength and to trust Him in all areas of my life.  Instead of wasting my emotional energy fretting and worrying, I learned to relinquish everything to the Lord in prayer.

And it only took a toddler’s sweet words to teach me that lesson.

“Don’t be afwaid, mommy.”

Has God ever spoken to you through your children?  Tell me about it in the comments below!

Why I No Longer Have Mommy Guilt About Exercising

945106_667223056638236_616353049_nMy life was crazy busy when my kids were very young.  Working out was the last thing on my mind during those days when I was chasing a toddler around the house while nursing a newborn (and yes, by my second child I had perfected the art of nursing while standing, walking, cooking, shopping–you name it).  I hardly had time to finish any of my meals before I had to clean up a spill or grab an escapee from a high chair, and I was routinely awake for more than 20 hours a day.  I was always exhausted and haggard. Although I was at my lowest weight since high school, I was not in much of a shape and lacked muscle tone.  My stomach still jiggled like jello. I looked like a shrunken version of my shriveled, postpartum self, somewhat resembling a prune.

It was a far cry from my running days which stretched from my high school cross country team well into adulthood.  I loved training, racing, and occasionally winning, back in my prime.  Running was so freeing.

Fast forward a few decades, and I found myself pushing two babies in a double jogger, vainly bribing them with cheerios to stay in their seats for at least one city block so I could somewhat get my heart rate up.  Running became anything BUT freeing!  However, running without the kids meant I had to hire a sitter or wait until David got home, and then I would be beset with guilt about leaving the kids for my 30-minute run. So, I just basically gave up on exercising altogether.

The day of reckoning came without any warning: my back went out one day.  I was swinging my toddler son around, and all of a sudden I crumbled to my feet and couldn’t get up for three days.  Just as I got over that painful episode, I tore my calf muscle when I tried to go out one day for a rare run.  The doctor told me it was your typical “middle-age, weekend warrior syndrome.”

That’s it, I said.  I’m going to start going to the gym!

I began attending the local 24 Hour Fitness club, taking full advantage of the wonderful child care program they offered onsite.  I stopped feeling guilty about working out, because I was there with the kids, not away from them.

Before long, I was going to fitness classes and moving with music which, I discovered in my middle age, I totally enjoy.  I regret having made fun in the past of “those gym rats” who weren’t exercise purists like us runners.  But no matter.  I was no longer exercising to win; I was exercising just to survive.  I needed to be strong for the kids, and I wanted to live long, healthy lives for their sake. And I had to stop feeling guilty about doing so.

So, here are a few things I learned about moms and exercising:

1.  Just do it!  Don’t feel guilty about taking care of yourself.  The kids need you, and you will be in so much better mood after a workout.

2.  Do whatever you enjoy.  If you’re able to go out for a run, and that’s your favorite form of exercise, then go for it.  If you like to dance in the living room, walk with a stroller, take a class, or play tennis, choose whatever works for you.  Set yourself up for success, not failure.

3.  Schedule your workouts ahead of time.  If you don’t have it in your calendar like any other appointment, you probably won’t make it.

4.  Work out with a group.  I’ve met some great friends through these classes, and these people keep me accountable.  We text and check up on each other!

5.  Do it for your health, not vanity.  We all still have stretch marks and permanent pregnancy flabs, but we aren’t trying to win a beauty contest.  We’re here to get strong.

My kids no longer need child care, but I continue working out at the gym.  And I don’t feel guilty anymore about that, either!

* * * *

Do you have guilt about exercising and taking time for yourself?  Tell me about it!

Teaching My Asian Kids The Power of “No”

IMG_0949I come from a culture where the word no is a bit of a taboo.

It’s not that we don’t have the word no in Japanese. It is iie (pronounced ee-ee-yeh).  The trouble is, we don’t often come right out and say it.  Our culture is really big on saving face, both our own and that of the other party, so to just say no without much padding around it is not very cool.

So, we Japanese have perfected the art of beating around the bush.

Thank you so much for inviting me.  I really don’t deserve such kindness. (i.e., I really don’t care to go to your party)

That certainly is a colorful dress! (It’s actually quite dreadful)

I have never tasted such an interesting dish. (Ewwww)

I’ve seen some beautiful ladies with that same haircut. (Bad style on you)

Both parties are adept at reading between the lines, so they dance in unison around the truth until they both get the clue.  Yeah, it’s like speaking code half the time.  For the people within the Japanese society, however, this is normal and everyone totally gets each other. Often, one caves and ends up saying yes out of obligation, but at least no one loses face.

Imagine our shock, then, when my family emigrated here when I was a child.  Americans are so direct!  From our perspective, our new neighbors seemed completely rude and cruel for being so straightforward.  It took quite a while to stop feeling personally wounded by every direct answer.

In time, though, I began to appreciate the honesty of this culture.  It was rather freeing not having to read between the lines and guessing what people were truly saying.  We actually saw the value in coming right out and saying yes or no, thereby extinguishing false hopes and expectations.

I realize I am generalizing here, as I have since met indirect speakers in the US as well as blunt people in Japan.  But in any culture, I see a keen need to balance honesty with kindness — “Speaking the truth in love,” as it says in Ephesians 4:15.

Having grown up in both cultures, I now prefer hearing straight answers over indirect ones, and I certainly prefer it over lies.  More often than not, though, I still have trouble speaking directly, which drives my husband up the wall. “You’re being cryptic again.  Just tell me what you want,” he tells me in frustration. I also still end up doing something out of obligation occasionally because I just could not say no, but I’m making progress.  It’s still important to be considerate of others, but not at the expense of my own sanity.

For my own kids, therefore, I am trying to raise them up in the best of both cultures.  I want them to be honest with their feelings while being gentle. The word tactfulness comes to mind here.  More importantly, however, I want them to be able to say “no” when they need to, especially to bad people:

“No, I don’t want to try drugs.”

“No, I don’t want to go out with you.”

“No, that is not a nice way to speak to me.  Please stop.”

The best way for them to learn to do this is at home.  In order to accomplish this, therefore, I have to resist busting through their no‘s.   I can allow them to not like my new recipe, return outfits I bought for them on my own if they don’t like it, and, someday when they’re grown adults, to let them choose to go on a trip with their friends instead or coming home for the Holidays.  Of course, we wouldn’t allow “No, I don’t want to go to bed!” when they’re 5 years old, but you get the idea — incremental no‘s at age appropriate steps.

I have learned a great deal on this topic through an insightful book called Boundaries by Henry Cloud and John Townsend.  I highly recommend it for everyone but especially for parents.  After all, we have to be healthy to raise healthy kids.

I don’t know about you, but becoming a parent has forced me to grow up.  Hasn’t it, for you?

Yes or no?

How a Misdiagnosed Case of Shingles Made This Mom Slow Down

photo courtesy iStockphoto.com

photo courtesy iStockphoto.com

“Uh-oh, I’ve got a pimple!” I sighed while getting ready to volunteer at a book fair at my kids’ school.  I tried to brush my bangs over my forehead and hide this blemish which sat squarely above my right eyebrow.  Acne, thankfully, was not one of my many afflictions during my teen years, so I was surprised that I would get one now…as a middle-aged mom.

“Oh well, I’ll let the other moms envy me for being young enough to still get a zit,” I quipped to my husband who chuckled.

My life was busier than ever back in those days, what with a kindergartener and a second grader keeping me on the go as a chauffeur, chef, and mom.  I barely had time to look at myself in the mirror each day.  But I couldn’t help noticing that this pimple was growing. And it hurt!

The next day, I noticed another pimple threatening to break out just a hair away.  Now, I had two volcanic cousins right next to each other, like Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa on the Big Island of Hawaii.  They both hurt so much that they were giving me a headache!

At last, I went to my doctor-husband, David.  “Honey, can you take a look at my forehead?  I can’t believe these pimples!”

He took a good look.

“They’re not pimples — they’re spider bites,” he diagnosed, very doctor-like.  “Brown recluse spiders tend to bite like that. ”

What?  We have a brown recluse spider living in our home, crawling onto the bed, across the pillows, and onto my forehead to bite me at night? Yikes! 

I immediately stripped our bed and washed the sheets in extra hot water.  I vacuumed every nook and cranny in our bedroom, hoping to eradicate this arachnid before it killed me.  I couldn’t help but wonder why the spider liked my forehead so much more than David’s.

Research on the internet provided me with more frightening information than I ever wanted about spider bites.  Some terms left me with a sense of doom: venomous, necrosis, gangrenous.  Ewwww!  And on my face?

I made my husband immediately drive me to his clinic for a second opinion.  I needed another physician to take a look at my necrotic bites on my forehead by a venomous brown recluse spider before my forehead turned into a huge gangrene.  The pain kept getting worse, but I couldn’t tell if it was all in my head — er, I guess it was, technically.

“Doc, I think that’s shingles on your wife’s forehead,” stated David’s colleague.

Shingles?  Well, I did have chicken pox as a child.  That virus lies dormant inside until something triggers it to manifest itself as shingles.  A common trigger?  Stress. Gee, who would have thought that a mom of young children would be stressed?

Since my shingles were so close to my right eye, they did an eye exam to make sure that I wasn’t also going blind. Fortunately, my eyes were clear, and I was sent home with some topical creams and meds to reduce the pain.

This was no ordinary diagnosis, for it did wake me up to the fact that I was putting myself under a tremendous amount of stress, and it was showing up…on my face.  I needed to cut back on my activities and to stop trying to be Super Mom.  I reduced my volunteering schedule at school and at church, I began to pray and meditate on Scriptures every morning, and I began exercising more regularly.  I also hired a housekeeper to help with the cleaning so that I would never have a brown recluse spider moving in.

Those volcanoes on my forehead did erupt a few days later to create the telltale blisters that typify shingles.  “Now I see it!” exclaimed my husband rather sheepishly.  (For a while afterwards, I think he diagnosed every pimple or rash on his patients as shingles.) They left two little scars which are still on my forehead today, several years later.

Now, when I look at those shingles scars, they serve as my daily reminder: slow down, stress less.

Thank you, Lord, for shingles!

My Son’s Piano Class Adventure

20130223-093811.jpgConvinced that I had given birth to a musical prodigy, this first-time mom decided to enroll son Joshua in a piano class when he was four. The world needs to meet this genius-in-making, I figured. I found the local studio of an internationally-acclaimed music education program and attended their informational meeting.

“You only have a small window of time to develop musicality in a child,” the owner of the studio explained. “Even smaller window to gain perfect pitch.” Oh no–it might already be too late! “Every study shows that musicianship and high intelligence go hand in hand. Almost all highly accomplished pianist is also a genius.” She failed to add that many of them are also crazy, but the scare tactic worked. I forked over a big chunk of money to sign my son up for the first semester.

On the first day of class, I marched in with my son and took my place in the chair next to the keyboard. At least one parent had to attend with the student and sit through the 30-minute class. “Thus, the parents also get some music education,” the instructor cheerfully said as we opened the instructional book which came with the colorful bag with the CD of all the songs we’d be learning. We paid for the whole package, as per the contract.

The kids sat at the keyboard which was basically a synthesizer shaped like an organ. The bench was quite high, and my son’s feet dangled midair.

“Kids, sing with me: do, re, mi, fa, so!” The instructor urged the class as she played the scale. I took a deep breath and sang, “Do, re, mi, fa, so!”

“That was good, parents. Now, let’s hear you, kids.” Evidently, this teacher has done this a few times. I changed my voice to sound like a little child and leaned over to my son whose mouth hung open in puzzlement and tried again.

“Do, re, mi, fa, so!”

I made a good ventriloquist.

The semester continued on, and we faithfully attended our lessons each week. I diligently did our weekly homework with Josh, singing or playing along with the CD of the songs.

One day in class, we had a special guest come in to play a piece. She was probably 7 or 8, and she was enrolled in the special class for highly advanced young musicians. “This class is by invitation only. We observe your children and, after two years, decide whether your child continues in the regular or advanced track,” the teacher explained. I knew right away that my son would be joining this girl someday.

She sat at the regular piano in the front of the classroom. Her feet did not touch the floor, so they outfitted the pedals with wooden blocks for her. She took a deep breath then began to play.

I was expecting her to start with Chopsticks. Instead she launched into Chopin, her little fingers dancing up and down the scale, moving her body with each measure. She closed her eyes at some point as if to truly feel the music. I couldn’t believe my eyes nor ears. Her little body was inhabited by a 20-year old concert pianist. It was almost creepy.

I was just getting into this grand piece when suddenly I was jarred back into reality by a big “thud” next to me.

“Waaaaaaah!” my son cried on the floor, wedged between the keyboard and the bench. He had fallen off the tall seat.

Great. This little girl is playing a grand piano piece, and my son can’t even stay seated.

Josh continued on with this music education system for many years until he graduated about 6 years later. He never did make it to the advanced track, but he did become an okay piano player. Today, he is marching in the band at his high school, playing the trumpet. He never developed perfect pitch, but he has great appreciation for music, especially jazz.

I, on the other hand, learned to sing my do-re-mi’s perfectly well. I also learned to humble myself and to let our kids be who God made them to be.

And that was well worth the tuition we paid!

Advice to Dads: Do Not Buy a Tux When Your Kids Are Young!

20130202-081410.jpgI was recently with some parents of two very young children — one infant and one toddler — and was reminded of how physically taxing those early years were with our two little kids. We’re far enough away from that season now that we can dispense a few pointers to moms and dads who are still in the thick of early parenting. Here’s a parenting advice you will definitely want to heed:

Do NOT purchase a tuxedo during this time in life.

My husband doesn’t often go to fancy events, but on occasion he has to attend work-related dinners and banquets. If it’s formal enough, he would go rent a tux. Eventually, he calculated the cost and realized that he should just buy the tux instead of renting one each time, because it would pay for itself within 2 or 3 events. After all, he figured, he’s an adult now and fully grown. So, he got measured and got one made to fit his slim size.

Bad timing: thanks to the physical demands of being a young parent, he was at his lowest weight of his adult life.

He would often be carrying our infant daughter in a Baby Bjorn while pushing our 2-year old son in a stroller. From the moment he woke up till he went to bed at night (and beyond), he was non-stop in motion either at work or at home, burning calories almost as much as running on a treadmill all day long — which is what life mostly felt like back then!

The tuxedo he purchased fit him perfectly on that day. He went to a retirement party for his former boss. He looked great.

A few years later, David pulled out the tuxedo for another occasion. Our kids were sleeping through the night and starting to attend school by then. Life was getting a little easier each day.

David dusted the pants off of the hanger and pulled them on.

“Uh-oh,” he moaned, as he attempted to button the pants.

“Man, this is tight.”

He then took the jacket and pulled his arm through the sleeve.

“Whoa,” he said. He wished that the tux was made of stretchy material like polyester.

Honestly, can our bodies be a little more thoughtful towards us parents? Why can’t we keep metabolizing at the same rate as before, even if our waking hours are no longer 22 per day?

This serves as a reminder of the pitfalls of thinking that this stage in life is permanent. Early parenting years seem to last forever, but the next time you come up for air, our kids are already teenagers. I paid a lot of money to have our home professionally child-proofed, thinking that our house will forever need to be protected against suicidal children. Soon, our kids were unlocking the stairway gates and uncovering the electrical outlets themselves…and showing me how. David and I spent a whole weekend undoing all that child proofing (and we didn’t even get paid for the work!).

I had always intended to do my son’s nursery, but when I finally had time to work on it, Josh was already eleven. Oops–too late. Good thing the changing table doubled as a book case for several more years.

We had our daughter’s room painted princess pink. Now a preteen, she despises the color. We also got her an expensive bunk bed when she was in first grade for “all the sleepovers” which she rarely does anymore due to her homework load and demands of other activities.

Oh well, I guess that’s life. We’ve learned to hold on loosely to each stage in life, enjoying our kids at whatever age, as much as we can during that moment. We’re reminded each day how fleeting our lives are. Good thing we have this promise in Mathew 24:35:

Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.

Meanwhile, David is still trying to lose that “last 10 pounds” so he could fit into that tux again. He will someday attend his son’s wedding in that thing, even if it kills him.

My Housekeeper Stole From Me…I Think

I hate it when people use their housekeepr as the excuse when they can’t find things.  That’s why I let so much time go by and so many items disappear around my house before I finally reached the reluctant conclusion that my cleaning lady was stealing from me.

To be more precise, it was my housekeeper’s preteen daughter who was the thief, I believe.  On occasion, she would tag along with her mother when school was not in session.  “Annie” was supposed to be helping her mother, but she once watered our fake bamboo plant and ruined our wood floor.  Her efforts at vacuuming and dusting were lacking, so most of the time she sat on the couch and watched TV while her mother cleaned my house.  I tried to make conversation with her, but neither Annie nor her mom spoke much English.

I first noticed that my favorite makeup brush was missing.  They’re not super valuable, but when you’re ready to put on your eyeshadow and the brush is missing, it is a bother.  I just assumed that I left it at the gym the last time I took a shower there and went to the store for another one.

But then I began to notice a few other items disappearing one by one over the course of several months.  It is quite difficult to prove that something is missing, short of taking an inventory of everything I own.  They were just small items that were all “one of many” that inhabit my bathroom drawers, such as the eyeshadow I didn’t often use and bracelets I only occasionally wore.  However, I noticed that I was spending more and more time searching for “that thing I swear I had right here yesterday.”

I tried to keep a better eye on my housekeeper’s activities, but watching this young mother working so diligently made me feel so guilty.  It’s not like things went missing every time she came to clean, so…

Then it dawned on me: this only happens when Annie tags along!

I hated even more to be suspicious of an 11-year old girl, but I couldn’t help it.  I also noticed that she spoke much better English on the phone with her friends than she let on with me.  One time, I even gave her several gift-with-purchase makeup samples, as if to preempt her thievery.  She seemed grateful, but later that week I noticed that my pink lipstick was missing.

I was torn between feeling guilty for falsely accusing someone and being an idiot for letting this happen.  Annie’s mother seemed clueless and adored her daughter.  I must have let this go on for almost two years.

The last straw was when Meg’s brightly colored sponge curlers went missing.  We often curled up her wet hair at night so she could wake up to a cascade of curls in the morning. Meg was upset. Earlier that day, I noticed that Annie had scurried off to the car before her mom announced, “Finished!” as usual, signaling my time to pay her.  Did that rascal tuck those curlers inside her jacket?

Finally, I couldn’t take it anymore.  I made a phone call to fire my housekeeper.  Annie answered, as she often did on behalf of her non-English speaking mother.

“I have a question for you, Annie: are you taking stuff from me?”

“What? Me? No,” she replied, completely shocked and hurt, overwhelming me with guilt once again.  Before I could change my mind, I continued.

“Please tell your mom that I don’t need her to come clean our house anymore.”

I just left it at that.  I wanted to leave room for Annie’s innocence, just in case I was wrong.  She had some issues to work out with her mom and with God, but I sort of wanted to stay out of it and let her deal with it.

I felt so violated that I tried for over two years to clean the house myself, until my disgust at a messy house won over my reluctance to hire another housekeeper.  My current cleaning lady has been great.

I just hope that I did the right thing.  What would you have done?

Motherhood, Trash, and Maggots, oh My!

My clinical psychologist friend Linda used to assure me that early childhood parenting is a time of “Survival Mode.”  How right she was!  Young children require constant attention.  Trouble is always lurking just around the corner, and if you are not vigilant at all times, they could swallow knives.  They could jump off a wall.  They could run out into the public and strip off all of their clothing, diapers and all.

This is why we moms must let some non-essential things go by the wayside, such as personal hygiene.  Sometimes, we may go one day without a shower — just put up your hair in a pony tail and add another layer of deodorant  — but two, or perhaps even three, days?  Yes, it could happen to the best of us moms.

Worse yet, I had precious little time to do simple but necessary household chores such as taking out the kitchen trash.  As long as the trash bin wasn’t completely overflowing, I would squish it down with all my might and would let another day (or days) go by before I finally tied up that little white trash bag and took it about 25 feet to the garage where we keep our trash bin.  Believe me — that is just too much time and distance for us busy moms.

Once, when I had a college student over to help me with the kids while I packed and got ready for our family vacation the next day, I was upstairs trying for the fifth time that day to step into a shower.

“Mrs. Cheng!  What is this?” she yelped from downstairs.  I sighed, then I turned off the water and got dressed again to go see what she was so panicked about.  She was examining some grains of rice crawling on the kitchen floor.

“They’re….they’re MAGGOTS!”  She exclaimed.  I took a closer look.  Yup, I had maggots climbing out of my kitchen trash bin and rolling down onto the floor.  Oh my goodness.  How did I let so much trash sit around for so long that flies would start family planning in my house?

We did the best we could gathering up the little white creepy crawlies, stuffing them back into the trash bag which we threw into the garage trash bin.  I began to sense that I was letting some important things in life slide and vowed to redouble my efforts at personal hygiene and domestic duties even as we left on our vacation the next morning.

After a wonderful week and a half in paradise, we returned home, relaxed and in post-vacation bliss.  We walked into our sunny home, and I began opening the windows to air out the place while my husband unloaded our luggage.  The kids were still peacefully asleep in the back seat.

When I went into the kitchen, I noticed that there were numerous black dots on the hardwood floor, so I bent down to see what they were.

Dead flies.

Oh my!  I must have missed a few maggots which turned into flies!  Ewwwww…

Without any nourishment from my empty trash bin, they all eventually died while we were gone and dropped like, well, flies.  We went through an entire life cycle of fruit flies, right here in my kitchen!  Fearing that the Health Department or, at the very least, Child Protective Services, would come get me, I decided to work a little harder on my home economics skills.

Today, I do take showers quite regularly.  Our kids have now become old enough to actually help out in the kitchen, sometimes even taking out the trash for me.  We have moved out of the Survival Mode and onto Teenage Mode, but that’s another story.

All I know is that I do not want to ever see maggots in our house again!

Growth Chart and Why We Could Never Move Out of This House

Photo courtesy iStockphoto.com

On the inside of our master closet is a wall which has become our kids’ growth chart.  Over the years, I occasionally had our kids stand right up against that wall so I could mark their height along with the date.  Unfortunately, I made the markings directly onto the wall instead of taping up a roll of paper and putting marks on it.

We will never be able to move out of this house.

I wasn’t thinking through the ramifications of my actions when I first began marking our kids’ height on this wall.  It was just amusing to see how fast they grow.

“Wow, Joshy, you’re already 3 feet tall!” I said to our little boy one night after bath.  Within a few weeks, it seemed, he was an inch taller.

Younger sister Meg, never one to be outdone, scrambled over to be measured against her brother.  She tried to get up on her tippy toes to catch up to him.   In no time, she did.

Then there was that growth spurt during 2nd grade.  And 5th.  And this past summer.

I marked my own height on that wall, far above our children’s, thinking that it would be an eternity before they caught up with me.  Well, eternity must already be here, because both of them caught up, then surpassed, their mother.  It won’t be long before they catch up to my husband.

Each time I measure our kids, I tell myself that I better transfer this information somewhere else less permanent, but I always get busy chasing them off to bed or breaking up a fight.  In any case, a second-generation copy of the growth chart just wouldn’t be the same.  The original markings on the wall were made when the kids were actually that small.  I’m resigned to take the wall with me to the nursing home some day.  Or to my grave.

This wall contains precious information to a mother.  We moms have certain treasures that no one else but our kids’ pediatricians care about, like their height, weight, and growth rate.  Also precious to us are hand and foot imprints on various art projects from preschool, kindergarten, and first grade.  They were so tiny and cute back then.  Today, their gigantic, clumsy feet are anything but cute.  Their imprints would only be a source of interest to future archeologists digging in this area.

In the Bible, the people of Israel frequently built monuments to commemorate their God-led triumphs and victories.  These altars were known as Ebenezers.  Usually, they piled some rocks they found in the area.  It wasn’t the value of the material used that made their monument special but what it commemorates that really mattered.

For me, this little wall inside our closet is my Ebenezer.  I fed and watered our little children as they grew and grew, and this wall commemorates the small triumphs we experienced with each measurement.  It isn’t pretty, and it’s way too permanent for my taste, but it is a genuine chart marking the progress on my little kids’ lives.  So, this is why I could never leave this wall behind.

However, if you are a mom of young children today, let me give you an advice before it’s too late: Put up some paper on the wall first and make that your growth chart.  A rolled up butcher paper is far more portable than a wall.

And you can take that to your grave!

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What’s your Ebenezer — a journal or a photo album?  Tell me how you commemorate your trials and triumphs of motherhood in the comments here.

Our Extreme Makeover, Home Edition

Our rented dumpster on our driveway. Yeah, it was that bad.

“Whatever you do, don’t paint my white walls,” protested our 14-year old son.  He has always been my resistant-to-change boy.  He likes the familiar and won’t try something new unless we force him. Often, he then discovers that he actually likes it, whatever it may be: a new ride at a theme park, a new outfit, new friends, new food.  Not surprisingly, he also can’t let go of stuff.

“I might need that someday,” protests my hoarder-in-training.

We hadn’t been able to see the floor in Joshua’s room for quite a while now.  He likes getting those boxed sets of pre-designed Legos (where’s the creativity in that?), building them then leaving them on display, boxes and all.

Then came Gundam models.  That’s a plastic Japanese toy which you snap together, sort of a cross between Legos and Transformers.  When he received his very first box of Gundam from a Japanese visitor, he was reluctant to try it at first (see what I mean?).  However, once he put one together, he could not stop.  We found a Japanese store nearby which stocked them and bought boxes and boxes of them using Josh’s Christmas and birthday moneys from relatives.  On our next trip to Japan, Josh spent a majority of his time going to hobby stores to find new Gundam models yet to be released in the US.

Over time, Legos and Gundam took over our son’s room, and that mixed in with a variety of other toys and junk made it nearly impossible to step into his room.  I couldn’t even vacuum for fear that I just might suck up an important piece of Lego.  The room was starting to smell.

Then one day, David and I decided we needed to do a makeover of our upstairs rooms.  We wanted a bigger game room to accommodate the growing teenage friends visiting our home.  Josh’s room was bigger, so we decided to do a switch.  What perfect time to do The Purge.

I snapped on my disposable gloves and got to work.  Surprisingly, he let me throw out almost all of the Gundam and Lego boxes…but not the contents.

“Seriously?  You really want to display all these pieces?”

He wouldn’t budge on that one, and I relented because he had already gone through a lot.  I put a few of them on display in the empty book case and threw others into the clear storage bins in the closet.  Someday, he might pull them out again to play one more time before donating everything to Goodwill, when he turns 30. Or not — his dad still has his old Hot Wheels.  Yeah, it’s genetic.

Joshua's new bedroom. Eventually, we'll get a new bedspread...

We spent the entire Labor Day weekend working on this room, throwing things left and right into the rented dumpster in our driveway.  In the process, we found two Barnes & Noble gift cards for $10 each, three certificates for rounds of golf at a nice course nearby (value: $360!), Josh’s pair of now-too-small dress shoes which he only wore once in 6th grade before they “disappeared,” a dead moth, assembly instructions to our first stroller, and his social security card.  I stopped digging only because I was afraid of discovering Jimmy Hoffa buried in there.

When the room was finally cleared, I vacuumed.  What sweet sound!  The bag filled up so fast that I had to quickly replace it to work on the other 2/3 of the room.

The new game room which used to be Josh's bedroom

With the help of our kind neighbor Dave, we swapped furniture between the two rooms.  We hired some painters to paint the walls in Josh’s old room against his will, and…voila!  We now have a bigger game room and a teenager-worthy bedroom.

“It feels good to get rid of stuff, doesn’t it, Josh?”

He gave me a faint smile and a nod.

I’ll take it!

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How do you get rid of old baby, toddler, and childhood stuff?  Let me know, because I could sure use your advice!