Wednesday, August 25, 2010

The Safe Hiding Spot

The way my kids go about playing a game of hide-and-seek is quite amusing. They're young so it's not a surprise that they only have a few hiding places. They will run and open the door to the hall closet yelling loudly, "I'm not ready yet!" Ella has learned from her older two brothers where the good spots are and how she is to go about the job of seeking. It's understood that they will basically hide in the same 3 or 4 places over and over....and over. But, the seeker must not look in those places until he or she has exhausted every other imaginable place (where no one ever hides). Moreover, if the seeker goofs up and finds the hider a little too soon (without exhausting all of the other clever hiding places), then the one found is likely to be a wee-bit perturbed.

We played a rousing game of hide-and-seek this morning and this time the kids chose to play in the basement. Now, the basement is their playroom so it is filled with Lego's, cars, games, tubs full of toys, art supplies, an art table and chairs, and a futon. Again, my children are quite predictable. When they choose to hide in the basement, it's Mom or Dad that has to find them. They may spend half the morning constructing their hiding spot. But, it's always the same general idea. They move the art table and Lego table near the futon and then barricade them with chairs, pillows, and various plastic tub lids so the sides are blocked. The way that the pillows or lids block the tables may change a bit, as well as who hides under which portion of the "house" as it's called, but other than that, it's not too big of a mystery where they are hiding. Yet, they absolutely love this game. And not to disappoint, Mom takes her good ole time looking in the laundry room, storage room, bathroom, behind the chair, behind car mountain.....all the while commenting, "Where in the world could they be?" "These kids are hiding so well." "Hmmm....maybe they're in here." I do my best to make it the game that they expect to be played.

That's just it. It is what they have come to expect! Sometimes I'm not sure how it can be so much fun when it's so predictable; it's not always tons of fun for me (though I try to remain enthusiastic). Every now and then, I just wish I'd open the door to the dark bathroom and have one of them jump out yelling, "Boo!" scaring me half out of my pants. Alas, it will probably be several years before our game of hide-and-seek varies much. Right now, it's just as they expect--just as they predict, and that's why it's so comfortable for them.

Children like consistency. They feel safe when they know what to expect. Children crave and need consistency and stability; too much instability can even stunt them developmentally. Most parents understand this about their children--I know it's true for mine. I strive for consistency in dealing with my kids. But truthfully, it can be tough. I know that when Ella begins whining after being told "No," that it will often escalate into a tantrum. I know that the best solution for her when this happens is a time-out (although disciplinary strategies can vary from child to child). However, sometimes I'm just too tired of doing the time-out thing. I will tell her "No," and then the whining turns into a fit, and what do I do? I give her another warning, sometimes another after that. What? Why did I just cave? Why couldn't I remain consistent in my discipline (usually knowing full well while I'm warning her that time-out will be the end result anyway)? I struggle to remain consistent. And then, back to the drawing board....I start over vowing to remain consistent in all future power struggles with my 3 yr. old.

Well, needless to say, this morning's very predictable game of hide-and-seek was not only fun for the kids, but it reminded me of this important understanding of young children. They need consistency and predictability; they are looking for it; they are expecting it from us. It's comfortable! And, while I know that I will most likely screw this one up again (just as I accidentally found Luke a little too soon on round 2 this morning), I am not going to give up trying. My kids need consistency from me. They appreciate it and have more fun when I play the game right! Honestly, in the real everyday situations of our lives, it not only helps them, but it helps me too to remain consistent. While I may occasionally wish someone would jump from an unexpected hiding spot, I know my children feel most comforted and most able to be themselves (to just be kids) when I am consistent in my parenting. Let's try not to unnerve our children by being unpredictable! Let's just have fun playing the game of life as they have come to expect it...for now.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Shiny New Shoes

As a young girl I loved getting a new pair of black patent leather shoes for dress-up occasions. I remember wanting to wear those new shoes to bed for the first few nights after I got them. Most little girls love their shoes....and most grown women do too! As mamas, we spend a lot of time wearing our tennis shoes; we've learned that we need to be willing to work hard, get dirty, and try to be comfortable while doing the mothering job. But, every now and then we get to experience a feeling similar to putting on a brand new pair of patent leather shoes.

I have grown accustomed to looking for the good amongst the not-so-good; the rose in the thorns; the calm after the storm. Still, every now and then I experience a kind of good that I truly didn't expect. It can impact the course of my entire outlook on a day or a situation. Today I had one of those times. Today is Sunday, which is my favorite day of the week. It's the one day that our family is guaranteed to be together from start to finish. We go to church together, have lunch together, and enjoy whatever chores or activities we have planned together--as a family. It's the day that I get to put on my shiny shoes. However, sadly I'll admit that sometimes I forget how much I love Sundays.

There are those Sundays when the children are especially tired, cranky, or contrary. There are those Sundays when laundry has piled up after a busy week. There are those Sundays when my husband or I am somewhat tired or pensive about something and it begins to weigh us down. There are perfectly good Sundays that start out great but get too loud, chaotic, or messy to be fully enjoyable. Oftentimes I put too many expectations on my Sundays to be happy about the reality of them. Sometimes I get upset about having to put my tennis shoes back on. We have young children that need to be taken care of; they need our full attention most of the time. Being a stay-at-home mom, I am with them all week. But when Daddy is home they desperately want his undivided attention (which is especially difficult while Daddy is painting the exterior of our 2-story home). I've tried to be a bit more realistic about our Sundays. I know we will all be together and that my husband and I will enjoy an afternoon coffee together at some point. But, will we enjoy any halfway decent, intelligent, or uninterrupted conversations? I'm sure you can guess the answer as well as I can.

But today I realized that, lo and behold, miracles do happen on Sundays! I was able to keep my shiny shoes on longer than usual. After the kids finished their grilled cheese sandwiches and strawberries, and the new Lego tractor was constructed, my husband and I were able to have a wonderful, meaningful (and very minimally-interrupted) conversation. We had one of those conversations that I have only come to expect on long drives together or on the rare occasion that we have a date night. During these times I am prepared to discuss in detail any number of important married-raising-kids topics. But have a full, meaningful, adult conversation in the midst of our otherwise very kid-focused Sunday....what a treat! What a delightful and unexpected pleasure! Just like putting on a shiny new pair of patent leather shoes after wearing dirty tennis shoes all week.

It can happen. Children truly are a blessing but they come with strings attached. Those of us that planned for our families know about and are prepared (at least as much as we can be) for the strings. And most parents grow to enjoy and welcome the strings. We love wearing the comfortable, durable tennis shoes. But, in the midst of untangling, tying, and retying the shoe-strings, sometimes we get to put on a shiny pair of patent-leather shoes. And, boy does that feel good! We feel refreshed, refocused, rejuvenated....and our spirits are rekindled one to another. This is good and I will look for it more often because you just never know. You might find yourself dancing in shiny new shoes in the midst of a floor full of tangled up, tied up, beat up old tennis shoes.