Sunday, December 23, 2012

a couple things I learned watching The Nightmare Before Christmas as a parent

The other night, we started watching The Nightmare Before Christmas.

If you're unfamiliar with it, it's a Tim Burton movie -- which means it's both beautiful and bizarre at the same time.  It takes place in a world where each holiday have their own separate world.  So there's a Thanksgiving world, an Easter world, a Christmas world, etc.  The focus of each of these worlds is to prepare for the one day a year when they celebrate their holiday.  They have no idea of the existence of the other worlds.

That changes when Jack, "The Pumpkin King," stumbles into the Christmas world through a tree portal and becomes enamoured with it.  The Halloween city then decides to make Christmas their own, and -- of course -- chaos ensues.

I honestly do love watching this movie.  It's nostalgic, it's beautiful, the music is interesting (albeit with really twisted lyrics -- "Kidnap the Sandy Claws - through him in a box.  Lock him up for ninety years, then see if he talks," is one mild example.  Oh, they get worse for sure).  Yes, it's twisted, but you're talking to a girl who was obsessed with Edgar Allan Poe for a good part of her adolescence.  For whatever reason, there's a part of me that is attracted to the macabre.

But watching it the other night was different, because I was seeing it for the first time as a parent.  And as much as I still enjoyed the movie, I realized a few things.

1) I'm going to be a fairly strict parent when it comes to things I let my kids watch, or at least WHEN and HOW I let them watch things

The whole time we were watching the movie, we kept commenting, "Oh man, we would not let Gwen watch this."  Okay.  Granted, she's not even two yet.  But I really don't know at which point I would let her watch the movie.  I guess it depends on the kid and their fright level, but it's a pretty twisted movie and the claymation is fairly frightening.  Even more than the somewhat-freaky nature of the movie, I was more concerned about the content.

Most Christmas movies are fairly innocent and are focused on family and love. That's good.  That's nice.  But that's not why we celebrate Christmas.  I mean, that's sort of why we celebrate Thanksgiving, right?  I'm not saying that I don't want our children to never watch any sort of Christmas movie or any other type of movie that is somewhat at-odds with our Christian worldview, but I want to be careful about when I let them see it.

For instance, my parents let me watch movies when I was old enough to understand bigger concepts.  I didn't see Nightmare when I was 5, but when I was older.  I would want my children to see movies and talk about both the good and dark qualities about them.  I'd rather have them be critically-minded about movies they watch, rather than mindlessly absorbing them.

Even Disney movies that are completely "harmless" can cause damage.  Take, for instance, Cinderella.  Now there's a classic, seemingly-harmless fairy tale, right?  And I admit: I have a very soft spot for the story in my heart, especially since Elliott and I met during a production of the story (yes, I was Cinderella, and he was the Prince).  But without being critically-minded, I think this movie -- and other movies like it -- can do a lot of damage to boys and girls alike.  In these movies, we typically see helpless girls waiting for a void in their lives to be filled by a man.  We also see knights-in-shining-armor coming in to save the damsel-in-distress.  There's worldview damage to be had, whether or not you're a girl who just wants a guy to make her life perfect, or you're a guy looking for disfunctional women to save.  It's a dangerous narrative, and I think watching those movies without an awareness of the worldview I was absorbing really affected the way I lived my life (and I know it affected Elliott as well).

The worldview I want Gwen and "Birdie" (and whatever other kids we'll be blessed with) to know -- that we are broken, in need of saving, and our only hope is found in Jesus Christ -- is not typically found in movies.  I understand that.  It needs to be taught in the home, and it needs to be lived out in our lives so they see the Gospel in action.  But part of teaching them our worldview is knowing WHAT movies we want them to see, and WHEN is an appropriate time for them to see these movies.  It's also knowing that if they want to see a movie we are not 100% okay with, that we need to watch it with them and talk about it afterwards, so they they can develop a discerning spirit.

2) I'm concerned with how we celebrate Christmas

Full confession: I'm a sucker for Christmas.  And you know what?  I think the majority of my energies are focused on decorating, carol-singing, and gift-giving.  I also love watching classic movies -- Charlie Brown, Emmet Otter, A Muppet Christmas Carol, The Christmas Toy, It's a Wonderful Life... I love Christmas movies.  I love the nostalgia that comes with Christmas.  I love re-living the Christmas "spirit" as a mom and bringing the cozy joy to my daughter.

But that's not why I celebrate Christmas.  At least, in my head, I know that is not why I celebrate Christmas.  Yet if I take a full unbiased view of my activities during this season, I am ashamed to say that I do not fully celebrate the birth of Christ.  Honestly, it's almost an afterthought.  And that makes me very sad.

Of course, we talk about how we want our children to grow up in a home where the focus of Christmas is the Gospel -- and the amazing miracle of God coming down in lowly human form to save us.  But so far, I don't see us living this way.  Our main focus is on family.  That's not a bad thing, but it's not why we live our lives.  We live our lives for Christ because of His grace shown to us.  It's an awesome, almost unthinkable-but-incredible truth that drives us day-in and day-out.  It's a shame -- and I seriously mean: a truly shameful thing -- that our Christmas season is not more focused on the Lord.

So I'm turning this to you now.  We're still a young family starting out.  We definitely have the chance to start Christmas traditions that our kids will grow up with.  

  • What do you do to ensure that the holiday season is one focused on Christ?  
  • What have you done with your children so that "PRESENTS!!!!" are not the main focus?  
  • What have you heard others doing?  

I'd love to know your thoughts, because Elliott and I want to be intentional about how we celebrate this season.

And this is probably my last "Christmas" post, so...

a very wonderful, blessed Christmas to you all!

Monday, December 17, 2012

'tis the season... so why don't I feel anything?

During this holiday time, Christians everywhere are rejoicing.  

It is a time of great celebration -- 
of proclaiming our Faith -- 
of commemorating our Saviour's birth.

Photo Credit: Nick Lamparter on flickr

You hear it.  You say it.  You experience it.  
I know you know what I'm talking about.

But how genuine is it?

I mean -- no, wait: I know it's genuine.  And I've been there too -- and I say these things too -- and I celebrate too.  But I have to admit: just as much as I'm prone to be mindlessly sing, "How Great Thou Art," so I am prone to mindlessly say, "Our focus this Christmas season is the celebration of Christ."

You say it because you know it's true.  
You say it because you believe it.

But you also say it because you want it to be true.  You want your focus of the holidays to be on Jesus -- not only because you "know it's the right thing to do," but because you are truly thankful and in awe of what God has accomplished through Jesus.

And yet.

Are We Really Embodying the Holiday's Meaning?
How often do we say "the right things" in passing without fully embodying them in our lives?

Here's my confession: I find it really difficult to embody the celebration of Christ during Christmas and Easter.  I mean -- I do celebrate and I do want to really consider what these times mean, but during the holiday seasons -- I admit -- the majority of my time and energy is devoted to writing cards and wrapping presents.

That's not to say I do not know why we celebrate.
That's not to say I do not weep when I hear the Gospel message proclaimed in its full glory and truth.

I do.

But when it comes to the holiday season -- when I'm "supposed" to feel something extra special about Jesus and the Gospel -- I always feel like I'm coming up short.

Part of the problem here is an infantile-view of what it means to be Christian.  When I was a kid, I wanted to feel things deeply.  A worship song just wasn't a worship song until I was ravaged by emotion, you know?  But that's not the truth. 

Just as loving someone doesn't mean feeling head-over-heels-crazy day-in and day-out (because seriously -- there's no way Elliott and I could have kept up the "Let's talk until dawn every day and never go to sleep again" stage of our relationship), loving the Lord doesn't mean I have to be wrecked by emotion day-in and day-out (because seriously -- life is life and although I can practice praying ceaselessly and certainly try to do so, we still have to eat dinner at the end of the day).

Okay.  So maybe I don't have to worry so much about feeling something during this season.  I still think that I should be in awe of the Lord Incarnate.  Right?

How Do We Do It?
I know we are meant to be in awe every single day of the year -- I get that.  But just as we truly celebrate people when it is their birthday -- just as we truly celebrate anniversaries of momentous occasions -- so too should I truly celebrate the birth of the Christ.

I shouldn't go through this time mindlessly singing Christmas carols, but joyously proclaiming the Truth through song.  I shouldn't go through this time focused mainly on presents and Christmas cards, but purposefully setting aside time to explain to my daughter what this is all about.  I fear that if I don't, she'll quickly learn that Christmas = presents before Christmas = the Gospel.

So how do I do it?

For starts, I am going back to the Old Testament -- to Isaiah and Jeremiah -- and relishing in the amazing words of Hope that Christmas truly gives us...

"But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts.  And I will be their God and they shall be my people.  And no longer shall each one say to his neighbor and each his brother saying, 'Know the Lord,' for they shall all know me... 
For I will forgive their iniquity and I will remember their sin no more."
Jeremiah 31:33-34, ESV

If you're like me and find yourself somehow just "going through the Christmas motions," then I encourage you to dig deep into the prophets before jumping into the Christmas story in Matthew, Mark, and Luke.  Let each word soak into your soul.  Don't rush.  Don't assume you know all this stuff already -- go into the Word as if for the first time and let God surprise you with the truth He has to offer.

That means giving a bit more space to the Bible and to prayer than perhaps you're used to.  But if you don't change some habits -- if I don't change some habits -- then this Christmas will pass by and the days will pass by without truly embodying the Gospel message.

  • How do you do it?  How do you embody the Gospel during the Christmas season?
  • Have you struggled in a similar way to me?

Friday, December 14, 2012

thankful for the little things that are not-so-little to me

This morning was a rough morning.

You see, I've been waking up consistently at 4am -- for no reason -- just shooting awake, ready to go.  This, after falling asleep around 11pm.  I usually sleep 9pm - 5am on workout-days and 9pm - 6:30am on non-workout-days.  So this 11pm - 4am thing finally caught up with me this morning.

Oh, I woke up at 4am again, but managed to somehow fall back asleep (albeit with severe pregnancy-related back pain).  Of course, my little girl decided today was a morning she would wake up at 5:30am.

I just lost it.  Absolutely lost it.  Cried and cried into my pillow -- tired from the exhaustion, feeling beaten up by my back pain, and feeling isolated from my family.  All I could wish was that we lived closer to family so I could just call up someone today and say, "Hey, my back hurts and I haven't slept in weeks -- can you please take Gwen out for the day?"

That's not to say I don't have fabulous people here who can help me out.  Even just yesterday, my wonderful-and-stupendous friend Lauren played with Gwen for two hours.  But even with amazing friends, it's not the same as having Gwen's actual grandparents in the area.

So I cried.  And felt very sorry for myself.  And just gave in to exhaustion and pain and emotion.

And then?

My husband took Gwen to his first meeting of the day.

No joke.

He took our daughter to a meeting.

This was one of the most blessed things that could have ever have happened to me today.  I got to sleep in until 8am (I NEVER get to do this except when we stay at one of our parents' houses!) and eat breakfast in peace.  I got to be slower than usual, hobbling around on my legs that don't really want to work properly because Birdie is sitting on my nerves in an uncomfy way.

It could be seen as a little thing -- taking our daughter to work -- but to me, it was huge.  I am so thankful that this day -- which at first seemed so bleak -- turned out to be so wonderful.

(And apparently, she did great and sat on his lap the whole time.  The reason I'm not suggesting he take her every Friday morning to this meeting?  She ate her first donut.  If I think about it, it makes me cringe, so I'm choosing not to think about it.)

(But as for me, I think I'll have a cookie.)
  • What seemingly little thing are you thankful for today?

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Potty-Training a 17-month-old? (Why yes - yes, I am!)

You probably think I'm crazy.

What pregnant lady in her right mind would potty-train a 17-month-old?

This one right here.  Although being in my "right" mind is open to discussion, since I am entering into the third trimester and everyone knows babies eat your brains (just not in the zombie way).

Anyways.  I'm sure I'm not alone.  In fact, I found this handy little article here about a woman who (successfully) potty-trained her 18-month-old, and Gwen's not too far behind.

My Reasons
I promise you -- this isn't just a pie-in-the-sky endeavor.  The more I read about potty-training, the more I realized Gwen was ready.  And there's just another little event happening in March that makes me feel a slight race against the clock.

Reason 1: Gwendolyn's Readiness
Gwen is actually displaying a number of the signs of potty-training readiness, with the exception of maybe one.  She's incredibly independent, learns very quickly, has been interested in the potty, has had long-ish dry times during the day, and has the ability to sign to us when she needs a diaper change (she doesn't always tell me, though).  She's also known the sign for "potty" for months now, and sometimes just likes to sit on it for fun.  Since she seemed ready, I figured it was worth attempting now.

Reason 2: My Readiness
Baby2 is set to arrive the first week of March, and I'd rather not be diapering for two if I can help it -- not to mention doing two sets of cloth diapering laundry each week.  Also, I am just entering into the third trimester, so I still have a general ability to move around and keep my energy up (a general ability, mind you -- I'm still wiped out much of the time, but I figure this is only going to get worse).  Plus, this week has been incredibly mild (two days ago, it was 68 degrees here!), so having a little girl running around bare-bottomed isn't such a terrible thing.

Reason 3: Why Not?   
Ultimately, I figured: why not?  If she's ready, it'll stick, and that would be great.  If she's not, then it will take a while and we'll give it another push after she gets used to the baby.  Either way, I figured it doesn't hurt.

My Method
Method 1: No Pants!
I've read in many places that having your child run around without underwear for periods of time is very helpful in this process, so that's the route we're taking.  Apparently, kids are more aware of their bodies and bathroom-habits when they are naked, and for some reason, it helps the potty-training process go much quicker (also, if your kid is anything like mine, it's a sheer thrill to be naked -- which makes for a VERY happy baby during the potty-training time).  Now, some swear by the three-day training program, but I just wasn't up for the challenge (no diapers ever for three days straight, plus a three-month prep period of no diapers in the house)So we just have a few hours each day when she is diaper-less (at least four, maybe a little more).
Method 2: Easing Into It
Here's the reality: my daughter is 17-months-old.  I do not want to pressure her into anything, or push something too hard that it backfires.  This is a big reason why I decided against the three-day-push.  Another method recommends putting the child on the potty every 30 minutes.  I tried this on day one, and she quickly grew frustrated and hateful towards the potty.  So I stopped that immediately.  The reality is that she's a smart girl, and I figure she'll catch on in her own time.  If the child grows to hate the potty, then you basically have to wait a few more weeks and re-set.  I don't really want to do that.

Method 3: Realistic Expectations   
Again - I know the girl is young.  I'm not expecting her to be trained in a week or a month or whatever.  But maybe she'll be on the path to being trained within a couple months.  Maybe she'll even be trained by the time Baby gets here.  Maybe she won't.  I don't really care.   But it's worth a shot.  And I figure -- even if it all backfires and she regresses when her sister arrives, at least we'll have some sort of foundation.  We won't have to start from scratch.

The Progress
Day One: Gwen displayed a lot of animosity towards the potty (which is why I stopped putting her on it every 30 minutes), and had two accidents.  I was very calm about cleaning them up, and explained to her that it's not good to "go" on the floor, and we have to go in the potty.  Later that night, I asked her where the poo and pee goes, and she signed to me: "Potty."  So I knew there was some progress.  We went to the library to get potty-training books, and she got really into them.  I also explained to her the sticker/sticker book rewards thing: "If you go in the potty, you get a sticker."  She got really excited about having a sticker NOW, but I explained that she doesn't get one until she goes in the potty.  Likewise, I've decided that she can't pump the soap into her hands to wash until she goes in the potty.  She loves washing her hands, and we do it after she goes, but she is SO anxious to actually use the soap pump, so I thought I'd use it as a reward -- a thing that "big girls" do when they learn to go in the potty. 

Day Two: Still nothing in the potty, but she did have an accident NEAR the potty, stopped herself, ran into the room I was in, looked concerned, and continued to have the accident.  This showed me: 1) That maybe she was trying to get on the potty to go, but didn't get there in time (and I wasn't in the room to help her); 2) That she is able to stop herself from going (since she stopped to come "tell" me that there was an issue).  

Day Three: That's today!  It's colder today, so I might have to have her in pants without the diaper. We'll just see how things go.

  • What were your methods for potty-training?  How did it go?  
  • Be honest: do you think I'm crazy? :) 
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