Saturday, 24 November 2012

Adventures in Faith

Setting out on our new adventure over a year ago we were full of faith for the journey ahead. It felt like day after day we saw miracles of provision. We were full of energy and enthusiasm. We were utterly convinced of God's faithfulness for the long haul ahead.

Further along into our journey, the weariness sets in. When Max was younger and we went for long walks, he used to drop to his knees and cry "I've got no power" until we either forced him to walk (mostly) or picked him up and carried him, muddy wellies and all (his preferred option).

Today, I feel like sitting down in the middle of the mud and crying "I've got no power". Sometimes on a long journey you hit the place where you feel like you just can't go on anymore. Overwhelmed by the journey still ahead, you stumble over questions that are like rocks in your path. Is God still faithful when everything seems to go wrong? How can we keep on teaching our boys to trust God when we are struggling with that very thing yet again? How are we going to keep plodding when our energy levels are so low? Should we just throw it all in? How can we have come this far and yet still not have learnt basic lessons? Have we just made one huge mistake? What are we modelling to our boys in all of this?

And yet, at that moment of dropping to the floor, our God looks at us and loves us. Yes, He is still faithful. His faithfulness and goodness do not depend on circumstances. He just is. The unknown that is ahead of us is not unknown to Him. Max's favourite name for God is "I am." And He is. He really is. So we lift our eyes above the mess of our house, above the boys who fight every time we leave the room, above the broken car which we can't afford to fix or replace, above the busy-ness which threatens to send my head spinning and above the uncertainties of the unknown future and we look to Him. Admitting that we can't do any of this on our own, we look to Him who is able to do more than we can ask or imagine. We look to Him who has never let us down or deserted us yet on our journey. We look to the One who will carry us through.

Thursday, 22 November 2012


Perhaps I am just a traditionalist at heart, but I still believe that Christmas is about celebrating the birth of Jesus. I know that these days it's mostly about presents and Father Christmas (or his American counterpart, Santa), but I happen to hold fast to my values in the face of such red tummied, white bearded adversity.

And so, because of this rather stubborn viewpoint, I refuse to buy an advent calendar about Ben10 or Star Wars. Now this is no judgement on anyone else. If you have Hello Kitty or Dr Who advent calendars hidden away ready for next week, then I actually envy you in part. Enjoy your chocolates. Unfortunately I like to make life harder for myself.

For the last few years we have used a reusable advent calendar and I have stuffed it with chocolates (I used to only put one in and make them share it, but that went wrong a long time ago) and a bible verse for each day. Every morning, whilst eating a chocolate and dribbling it into their weetabix for added taste, we look up the bible verse and we countdown to the coming of Jesus. I like doing it this way. Our children are bombarded with a consumerist Christmas every way they turn and so I feel that at home we should at least attempt to show them why we have Christmas in the first place.

This year, I have written the verses on little strips of paper so that while we are looking them up and reading them together, Jonah can be decorating the strip of paper so we can turn it into an advent paper chain. It's always hard to find something that a 5 year old and an 11 year old can join in with, but I'm hoping this will do the trick.

So, in case you are interested in having a go yourself (and to save you the time I spent finding them all), here are the bible verses I have used:

Dec. 1 John 1: 1-5
Dec. 2 Isaiah 9: 2-7
Dec. 3 Isaiah 11: 1-10
Dec. 4 Jeremiah 33: 14-16
Dec. 5 Luke 1: 5-10
Dec. 6 Luke 1: 11-17
Dec. 7 Luke 1: 18-25
Dec. 8 Luke 1: 26-38
Dec. 9 Mathew 1:18-21
Dec. 10 Matthew 1: 22-26
Dec. 11 Luke 1: 39-45
Dec. 12 Luke 1: 46-56
Dec. 13 Luke 2: 1-5
Dec. 14 Luke 2: 6-7
Dec. 15 Luke 2: 8-12
Dec. 16 Luke 2: 13-14
Dec. 17 Luke 2: 15-18
Dec. 18 Luke 2: 19-20
Dec. 19 Micah 5: 2-5
Dec. 20 Matthew 2: 1-2
Dec. 21 Matthew 2: 3-6
Dec. 22 Mathew 2: 7-8
Dec. 23 Matthew 2: 9-12
Dec. 24 John 1:14

It's just my little way of making sure Christmas is about who it's meant to be about. We'll have fun with it. I hope you enjoy yours too.

Thursday, 15 November 2012

Stubborn Children

I am 'blessed' with stubborn children. I use the term 'blessed' because I know that one day this stubborn streak will be used for good. In the battlefield of parenting these 'determined' little ones, I keep my eyes fixed on that future prize.

Take today, for example. It was the age old 'I can't carry my schoolbag' whilst walking home from school. Unfortunately for Jonah, the Master of Stubborness Himself (older brother, Max) has already battled through this with me. This meant that I wasn't particularly fazed by his outbursts, his whining and his attempting to carry a rucksack and a coat on the tip of a pencil and then complaining that it was too heavy to carry.

Chatting with Max about his day (whilst the Bag Carrying Defier continued his protestations in my other ear), we attempted to ignore and stay cheerful.

"MUUUUM! You HAVE to carry this because I'm already carrying my clothes and my body!"

Well, the ignoring of this plea was the final straw.

"If you don't carry my bag and coat then I'm going to drop them on the floor."

"Ok," I replied, "I will not be carrying them for you so if you drop them on the floor then we will have to leave them there."

Along with a dramatic fall to the ground on the knees, the bag and coat were also dropped.

I stepped over them, continuing my conversation with Max, and we walked on.

"MUUUM! My bag and coat are on the floor!!"

"Ok. Well, you'll need to go and collect them then won't you?"

Behind us, a well meaning lady chased after us. "Excuse me! You've dropped a bag and coat!"

"Yes, I know. Thank you."

After walking several hundred metres up the road, Jonah, finally realising that I was not going to return to pick up his belongings, quickly ran and collected them. Sheepishly putting his coat and rucksack on properly, we managed to walk the rest of the way home without any more complaining.

When Max was younger and going through a particularly difficult 'warzone' stage, someone advised us that we needed to 'break his spirit'. I disagreed at the time, and still couldn't disagree more now. Our job isn't to break our stubborn children's spirits, it is to mould and shape them. I can't believe I am even writing this, but I am glad my children are stubborn and determined. Once they have decided on the path to follow, their determination will ensure that they stay on it. Our job is to steer them towards that path and teach them about making right choices.

So, the next time a battle commences about the wearing of a coat (actually, I've given up battling that one - I just let them face the consequences of the weather) or the carrying of a rucksack on the tip of a pencil, I need to remind myself of the positives of having stubborn children. Hmmmm.

Friday, 9 November 2012

Learning? Fun?

Now, I have no idea who Glen Dolman is, but he said this and I think it's very apt.

"Learning is the greatest game in life and the most fun. All children are born believing this and will continue to believe it until we convince them that learning is very hard work and unpleasant.
Some kids never really learn this lesson and go through life believing that learning is fun and the only game worth playing.
We have a name for these people. We call them geniuses."

This is why we have made an appointment to see the headteacher today. We are by no means saying that Max is a genius, rather that we need to bring out the genius in every child.

We have watched him become more and more downhearted as he has become convinced that learning is 'unpleasant'. Our Max, who adored learning, has been switched off. Our job is to press his buttons again.

Wednesday, 7 November 2012

Reserved Seats

I think I might produce some 'Reserved' signs for the sofas in our lounge. Either that or completely remove the sofas from the room.

Every day, several times a day, my boys fight over who is going to sit in the most favoured space on the sofa.

"MUUUUUUM! Max/Toby/Jonah is in MY space on the sofa!!!! Tell him to MOOOOVE!!!" goes the cry at regular intervals.

My particular style of (lazy) parenting is to ignore this request and leave them to sort it out amongst themselves.

I don't despair though. This is nothing new, of course. My sister will remember the race for the green swivel chair when we were younger. Elbows, bottoms, shoulders, heads and sometimes teeth (yes, but not mine, honestly) were used to remove the offender who sat in the chair before us.

How do we teach our children to share and to put others before themselves? I have no answers. We teach the same things over and over again, and yet I wonder if they bounce off their 'already thinking about something else' brains.

Still, I have hope. These days I don't race my sister to the chair and try to budge her out of the way with my bottom. Although I would almost certainly win.

Monday, 5 November 2012

Eating Out

Taking 3 'vibrant' boys out to a restaurant is always a good growth process for their manners and my humility. We don't eat out very often because they like their food and it is always fairly expensive, so when we do it is such a treat.

Last Saturday we used our Tesco clubcard vouchers and ate our dinner in Pizza Express. Before arriving, we explained that other people will also be eating their meals out and so the boys needed to be on their best behaviour.

They tried, they really did.

It was clear that we don't eat out often enough when we had to explain 'starters' to Jonah and he asked, with disappointment, if the pasta was the pudding. His eyes widened in shock when we explained that he has THREE courses of food. This was a whole new revelation to him. And to me. 5 years old and he'd never had a starter. Oh dear, what a terrible mother I am.

Then the drinks arrived and were, helpfully, in glass bottles with straws. Against my better judgement, Jared had ordered them coca cola and so they sat, with straws plugged in their mouths, blowing noisy bubbles into the bottles. The drink in Max's bottle fizzed up so much that it transformed into a volcano and leaked like lava all over the table.

Quickly mopping up the spilt drink with the warnings of "this is the only drink you're having so don't do that again", we attempted to stop them drinking all their drinks before the food came.

Max's eyes almost popped out of his head when his pizza arrived. He was so hungry and he loves food so much that he immediately and enthusiastically, in true caveman style, grabbed the pizza with both hands and stuffed it into his mouth.

"Max, you've got a knife and fork"
"Eh? What?"
"You've got a knife and fork. Use them please."
"Well, how am I meant to eat pizza with a knife and fork?"
"You have to cut it up."

So, awkwardly and with great difficulty, he slowed himself down and attempted to eat his pizza more politely.

Halfway through the meal, the waitress brought over some small tea lights and placed them on our table. The boys were like moths to a flame. How many things could they try to burn without setting everything on fire? How many times could they swipe their fingers through the flame? How many fingers could be swiped at the same time? It was far too much of a temptation and I was very relieved when they accidently put both candles out with one of their experiments.

It was during the devouring of the Sundaes (oh how yummy they were) that I realised Max was singing very loudly. I am so used to lots of noise when we're eating our meals that his singing hadn't registered in my mind as something he probably shouldn't be doing in a restaurant. It had been going on for quite some time when I finally asked him to stop.

My heart went out to the couples dining around us. Their candlelit pizzas were overshadowed by the finger-eating, serenading boys at our table. I think they all breathed a sigh of relief as we left the restaurant.

Thursday, 1 November 2012

Attack of the 'Shoulds and Oughts'

There are so many conflicting views out there about being a Mum. Sometimes I find myself attacked from all sides by the things I should be doing, or am not doing. I'm sure I'm not the only one who gets pulled down by it - unless you have incredibly thick skin, it's hard not to be.

All our babies and children are different. We can't expect everyone to fight the same battles, have the same outcomes or the same robotic, perfect children.

When Jonah, our third and final boy, was born 5 years ago some very good friends with 4 children gave us the most helpful advice so far in all our years of parenting. "Drop your standards".

Consequently, our standards have dropped. So low sometimes that I wonder if they will ever creep back up again!

I stopped trying to be supermum and hide seeds and other 'healthy' things in their weetabix.

I stopped making homemade fishfingers and bought them from Tescos instead.

I really do not care what they wear (most of the time) when they leave the house. This includes wearing holey t-shirts and mud strewn trousers to church meetings.

Sometimes, in a choice between more screen time and my sanity, the screen time wins hands down.

I shout at them. Sometimes they listen more when I shout.

I gave up trying to put sweets given to them at school in the sweetie jar to save for sweetie day and let them eat them on the way home from school instead.

My babies weren't breastfed for long. I gave them bottles and they have amazingly survived and aren't allergic to anything.

I choose my battles, even when I think others might not choose the same battles as me.

I try to discipline consistently, but often fail.

I don't have a clean and tidy house. In fact, you're usually lucky if you can make it through the front door.

I let them watch Scooby Do. Even Jonah. Even the episodes about demons and witches.

And, the amazing thing is that although our standards have dropped considerably, our boys seem to be mostly turning out ok. Maybe it didn't matter, after all, whether I made homemade fishfingers. Perhaps it wasn't the end of the world when I let Max play in the muddy garden in barefeet in the middle of winter because I couldn't face the shoe battle. Maybe my children are loved by me and by God, even when they look like they have been dragged through a hedge backwards (and sometimes, they really have been).

Instead of thinking about the 'shoulds and oughts', I need to think about the fact that my boys are happy, loved by us and by God, that He has great plans for them and has put them in our family for a reason. We are the ideal parents for our children. That's why God gave them to us. Let's have a break from the constant comparisons and know that we are doing our best, for our own children, in whatever circumstances we find ourselves in.