Tag Archive: children


The Disease of Expectation

winter snow heartAhhhhh, February – Christmas decorations are packed away, tax returns are being filed, winter stews fill the crock pot, and we watch the skies anxiously for a cozy blanket of snow or a promising hint of spring. And Valentine’s Day…oh yes, Valentine’s Day: the one day that possibly generates more stress in the hearts of men than a wedding anniversary; or a first date; or the wedding day itself; or the honeymoon; or becoming a father; or being a father on his daughter’s wedding day.
In a word, Valentine’s Day = anxiety.

Here’s the quandary: if a man spends too much his wife may question his motives or wonder if he is being financially responsible; if he doesn’t spend enough she may feel cheated, disappointed, unappreciated, rejected. This presents a tightrope walk for sure with only past successes (or failures) as the balancing pole for our men.

Enter peer pressure. “Well, so-and-so’s husband took her [fill-in-the-blank]” or “you should see what so-and-so’s husband gave her for Valentine’s Day” or the ever popular “I just thought you knew how much this day meant to me” (accompanied by sad little tears, manipulative pout, and possible stomping of feet and/or a lock on the bathroom door).

And exactly when did one day on the calendar become the benchmark for LOVE? Love can’t be measured in a day! I propose we have taken a dangerous detour from the word’s true meaning when it has been reduced to what can be paid for, wrapped up, and tied with a bow.

A group of professionals recently posed the following question to a few children between the ages of 4 and 8: “What does love mean?” The answers were broader and deeper than anyone could have imagined. See what you think (italics mine):

“When someone loves you, the way they say your name is different. You just know that your name is safe in their mouth.” Billy, age 4 (Love protects)

“Love is when a girl puts on perfume and a boy puts on shaving cologne and they go out and smell each other.” Karl, age 5 (Love inspires our best)

“Love is when you go out to eat and give somebody most of your French fries without making them give you any of theirs.” Chrissy, age 6 (Love shares)

“Love is what makes you smile when you’re tired.” Terri, age 4 (Love energizes)

“Love is when my mommy makes coffee for my daddy and she takes a sip before giving it to him, to make sure the taste is OK.” Danny, age 7 (Love makes the extra effort)

“Love is like a little old woman and a little old man who are still friends even after they know each other so well.” Tommy, age 6 (Love is committed)

“During my piano recital, I was on a stage and I was scared. I looked at all the people watching me and saw my daddy waving and smiling. He was the only one doing that. I wasn’t scared anymore.” Cindy, age 8 (Love is empowering)

“My mommy loves me more than anybody. I don’t see anyone else kissing me to sleep at night.” Clare, age 6 (Love is affectionate)

“Love is when Mommy gives Daddy the best piece of chicken.” Elaine, age 5 (Love is selfless)

“Love is when your puppy licks your face even after you left him alone all day.” Mary Ann, age 4 (Love is happy)

“I know my older sister loves me because she gives me all her old clothes and has to go out and buy new ones.” Lauren, age 4 (Love is smart!)

“When you love somebody, your eyelashes go up and down and little stars come out of you.” Karen, age 7 (Love is romantic)

“You really shouldn’t say ‘I love you’ unless you mean it. But if you mean it, you should say it a lot. People forget.” Jessica, age 8 (Love is expressive)

And in my personal opinion, hands down the best one:

“Love is what’s in the room with you at Christmas if you stop opening presents and listen.” Bobby, age 7 (Love is profound)

WoW! “… if you stop opening presents and listen …”

As parents, my husband and I have tried very hard to instill balance in our children’s expectations about holidays, and about life in general. While we want them to always believe in the magic of Christmas and the unique celebrating of their birth day, we have worked to keep their expectations within the framework of reality. As in, “I don’t care if one of your friends got a limo ride downtown to share a hotel suite with their friends for the weekend, complete with 24/7 room service and tickets to a concert.” Someone – or several someone’s – will always have more, do more, be more. And the disease of ‘expectation’ may be far more dangerous than any other childhood illness they will ever face.

So what kind of example are we setting for our children when it comes to this one day set aside for lovers? What are we teaching them about what love really means? I’m not suggesting that gifts are not appropriate; I certainly enjoy opening a pretty little box or two and I have never been accused of turning away from chocolate. True, there are times when a card can express what we may not be able to say in our own words. But maybe right alongside reining in our children’s expectations, we ought to be evaluating our own.

Ladies, may I encourage you this Valentine’s Day to set aside your expectations of the presents you ought to get – or stop comparing what your friends and co-workers get – and simply listen to what’s already around you?

Men, may I encourage you this Valentine’s Day to pause, look your wife in the eyes and give to her from your heart? Not as an excuse to squeeze your wallet a little tighter, but because you truly want to share yourself with her.

sharing hearts

It’s easy to buy something. What takes time and effort is giving of our selves. To share a piece of who we are. This Valentine’s Day, let’s stop opening the presents and listen. It just might be the best Valentine’s Day ever.

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This past Friday night I had the privilege to enjoy one of life’s rare, almost perfect, dare I say glorious evenings with my family. Not only with my husband and our two children who are still at home, but my parents, my brother, and my oldest son who lives now in Texas. It’s a rarity for all of us to be in the same place at the same time: my brother is in town between chef jobs at an exclusive hunting lodge in the Midwest and Alex is home for a week – the first time since Christmas.

I love to cook, and I try to be creative, but I am absolutely no match for my brother. He is a self-taught chef and in a word, amazing. “Chef Bo” has an instinctive sixth sense about technique, taste, texture, and presentation. Meats, fish, seafood, veggies, potatoes, sauces, fruits, desserts, you name it – he has a recipe somewhere in his head. I don’t even understand about half of what he does or how. But one thing is certain: it is always delicious. I don’t just mean “wow, that’s really good.” I mean, “How did you do that? That’s ridiculous good! Yes, more. Right there on my plate. Yep, keep it coming.”

So last Friday we decided on a menu, took our field trip for food shopping, and met at my house to begin preparing for the gorging that lay ahead. My mom was leaving town the next day for a choir trip so we were celebrating an early Father’s Day. And it was all hands on deck: I was working on the meat, Chef Bo was directing the appetizers and preparing side dishes, kids were chopping fruit and cutting blocks of cheese, Richard was cooking bacon. Everyone right there in the kitchen, together, doing something.

Knives flying, oven heating, refrigerator and pantry opened and closed, it all started coming together. Add a little move-your-feet music to the mix (U-verse, my family thanks you) and we had Paula Deen meets MasterChef.  We were laughing, talking, feeding ourselves a bite over here and playfully stealing a bite from someone else over there. By the time my parents arrived, the house smelled delicious. And we had artfully arranged the appetizers on a new (smaller) dish to disguise how much had already been consumed.

My responsibility for this particular feast was the meat: BBQ boneless ribs. Mmmm, my mouth waters just thinking about them. I’ve baked them many times before but I don’t remember ever cooking them when my brother was going to be eating them (did I mentioned he’s a chef?). Talk about pressure. The main attraction, the one thing everything else on the table centered on – even the appetizers – was my responsibility! Aye-yi-yi! I have to admit, I was tempted to change things up a bit, try something new, do them just a little different, but I stayed true to my personal recipe and slid the baking dishes into the oven.

Chef Bo, with a raised eyebrow asked, “Are you sure about those ribs? You know we’re eating in 2 ½ hours right?” I acknowledged the clock and his question with a simple, “uh-huh” and a smile.

Fast forward to 7pm. Appetizers consumed. Table set. Side dishes working on the stove and in the oven. Clock ticking. Laughter. Conversation. Billiards tournament underway in the basement.  And then it was time: time to pour the drinks, summon everyone to the table, and let the feasting begin. Everyone who knows me knows I love having my family around the table together (Norman Rockwell, my grandmothers and my mother, I thank you). So on any other day, just the fact that we were all together would have been enough. Not this evening. Not this meal. The ribs had to be perfect: tender and juicy but not watery, with sauce that wasn’t too thick or pasty. We all sat down and held hands to bless the food and our time together. Dishes began to move around the table in every direction, forks and spoons clinking, passing this, sharing that. And then the moment of truth: Chef Bo took a bite of those cooked-to-perfection ribs. I placed my napkin in my lap and sat back in my chair waiting, watching.

A big, surprised expression in those cat-like green eyes of his followed by a huge smile answered my unspoken question. “Wow! Those are amazing! How did you do that?”

Ah, yes, the sweetness of a food triumph.

What followed was in a word, carnage. We ate ribs until we couldn’t lift our forks. We ate homemade mac n’ cheese made from lasagna noodles (I told you, he’s a chef!). We ate a most unusual and delicious green bean and sweet pea concoction I feel very sure I could not re-create. Chef Bo asked my secret for the ribs followed immediately by, “No, don’t tell me. I don’t want to know. You can keep that culinary secret and I’ll just keep eating.”

We ate, we laughed, we told stories on each other. We shared a meal and we shared memories. It doesn’t happen often, but when it does it is truly unforgettable. No one rushed away from the dinner table, no one was anxious to go do something else or be somewhere else. Just family. Just perfect. And the email I received from my brother the next morning went something like this:

“About last night…it was grrreeeaaat. One of our best family times ever. And how exactly did you do those ribs???”

800 Feet in the Air

My family and I went on a week’s vacation to Florida last week, compliments of a Christmas present from my parents (thanks, Mom and Dad!) We moved to our new home in early April and I hadn’t needed our luggage until last week.

Our suitcases were nowhere to be found.

So we opted for Plan B: everyone packed their own duffel bag. It was actually a lot of fun. I’m usually a complete nut about everything being packed, perfectly organized, in its proper space, folded correctly. Not this year. It was every man, woman, boy, and girl for themselves.

We started out early in the morning and between GPS and the directions provided by the resort we managed to turn a 5-1/2 hour trip into 7+ hours. For all her engaging British-accent instructions, Miss GPS led us astray. By the time we arrived at our destination we were an engaging mix of slap-happy and belligerent, which is probably the reason I misunderstood the directions to our room provided by the smiling young lady at the front desk.

The kids and I unloaded the ‘luggage’ while Richard went to park the car. What we thought was a direct route to our room took us to a revolving door that launched us out onto the ocean-front pool deck. We looked like the Beverly Hillbillies trekking across the landing with our mis-matched duffel bags, pillows, blankets, and bare feet. I was tempted to call out to the children in my best redneck accent, “Looky thar, kids, it’s a cement pond!”

A kind (and slightly embarrassed) security guard rescued us and escorted us straight to our room. Oh, the stories he must tell his family at the end of a shift!

We enjoyed a week of gorgeous weather, great food, beautiful accommodations, late nights, and later mornings. On our last full day the kids decided their big splurge was to go para-sailing. After several phone calls we made an afternoon reservation and headed out for a bite of lunch.

We had a grand total of 12 on the boat, plus two instructors. Eleven of us were flying and Stephen had made it perfectly clear we were NOT going to be the first ones up. He wanted to see what everyone else thought about it before the captain strapped us in. Much to his dismay, we were the very first ones – the chosen ones – to venture up into the Big Blue.

I was not about to let the kids know I was afraid but I have to admit I was a little shaken by the thin strap under my seat, the one (only one) buckle around my waist and the two hooks above my shoulders. This is really the only thing connecting me to that chute and this rope??? 

Because of the weight distribution (no sarcastic remarks, please) I had to be in the middle with the kids on either side. Stephen was none too happy about being on the outside. He had planned to be safely encased between his sister and me.  Rachel, on the other hand, could not get up in the air fast enough. The metal bar to which our hooks were strapped was literally shaking with our fear as the chute inflated and began to take us airborne. Higher, higher, higher: 800+ feet in the air. It was exhilarating and terrifying. The boat appeared like a toy in that vast expanse of ocean.

I kept reminding myself to breathe while trying to take Stephen’s mind off the fact that we were 800 feet in the air by pointing out how far we could see and how beautiful the water was as we looked out. The thought kept running through my mind, “I wonder what would happen if I just leaned back and let go.”

I didn’t find out.

After about 30 seconds in the air, I noticed Stephen’s legs swinging back and forth. He was smiling, pointing things out here and there across the horizon, and almost laughing out loud. He loves it! He really loves it! Rachel was shouting down to the boat, and at first I looked at her and said, “Shhh, not so loud.” Then I checked myself and laughing out loud, I said, “Go ahead, girlfriend, give it all you’ve got!”

Back on the boat we were all smiles and talking a mile a minute. Stephen couldn’t wait to tell everyone about his adventure once we got back home and it has now been permanently placed on his “all time favorite things” list.

I’ve been thinking about that sky-high ride a lot since last week.  

Sometimes life brings us to a place where we have to hang on with both hands and simply let the chute take us where the wind is blowing. Yes, it is terrifying. But it is also exhilarating. The sun is warm, the breeze is perfect, the view is breathtaking. Fear makes us more aware of what’s around us and sometimes we see things we might have otherwise missed. White knuckles and all, you realize you wouldn’t trade that moment for anything.

800 feet in the air; and 14 minutes that will last a lifetime.

“Be careful – you’re gonna’ reap what you sow.” Remember hearing these words spoken from someone older (and probably wiser)?

I certainly do. I found myself on the receiving end of this admonishment from grandmothers, parents, teachers, my parents’ friends, neighbors, you name it. Having been born and raised in the South, this little nugget of truth wedged itself in my brain right alongside the more classic, “you ain’t got no dog in that fight” (translation, mind your own business) and “bless her heart, every dog has to have a few fleas” (translation, no one is perfect).

Of course, I also learned at a very early age that we could say anything about anybody as long as it was preceded by “bless her heart”.

Ahhh, how I love the South! But, that’s another blog for another day…

Karma; consequences; GIGO, the iconic ‘garbage in, garbage out’ which originated with the IRS during its shift to computer science in the early 60s.  Whatever terminology you use, it boils down to the same thing: if you do good stuff, you’ll get good stuff back; if you don’t, you won’t.  Now, try this on for size:

Hosea 8:7, “they sow the wind and reap the whirlwind.”

This tiny little verse in the tiny little book of Hosea takes the concept to a whole new level. These words introduce the principle that we actually reap exponentially MORE than what we sow; ‘they sow the wind and reap the whirlwind’. I like the idea of reaping more than what I sow when it’s in the positive; but wow, not so much the negative. As I reminisce through the years, I can think of very specific examples where both these principles have played out in my own life and the lives of those around me. What about you? Are you able to temporarily see through the glasses of your past and examine where you have reaped – for the better or worse – what you have sown?

Our children begin to experience this at an early age: if they play nicely and use their manners, the reward is praise and encouragement – and sometimes an ice cream cone! Conversely, when children lie or act out inappropriately towards another, the consequence takes on varying forms of discipline. Discipline is a tricky thing these days, ranging in severity from the Time Out chair (or corner) to having the Hand of Knowledge applied to the Seat of Understanding (my dad preferred the latter but hey, I’m old school). Hopefully, these life lessons are engrained in our psyche very early on. But all too often as adults, I think we challenge this truth and try to beat the system. Minor offenses, ‘little white lies’, nothing significant or alarming to those around us. Until the whirlwind hits.

We behave based on the mindset that we are above negative or unpleasant consequences. We are not.

There are laws in nature: survival of the fittest; predator versus prey; gravity; the cycle of the tides. There are laws in life as well and this one is a classic. I’m taking this new month in this new year to re-examine some of the actions I take for granted and my mindset behind them. There’s some sowing I need to do and some sowing I need to stop. As my best friend shared with me recently, “if you don’t like the dance, change the steps.”

If you’re currently reaping an unpleasant whirlwind, may I encourage you to take a closer look at what you’re sowing?  And if you’re in that wonderful place where you are reaping a bounty and experiencing a refreshing whirlwind of blessing, be thankful…and do a happy dance!

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