all the things i do not know

I like knowing stuff.

And based on how many questions my kids ask me each day, I mean, it’s a good thing. Like any modern day mom, I answer what I can and google what I can’t. And this little arrangement has made me the smartest person in our family — according to our kids, anyway. On most days. Unless daddy bought donuts – or took the boys to a park – or, generally, is home.

Either way, if the kids have questions, I have answers. It’s a good arrangement that only makes me want to lock myself in a closet with headphones to get a break from the constant “hey mom?”s some of the time. And that’s pretty good!

And then I was putting Boone to bed one night…

“Hey mom?”

Here we go…

“Where do people go when they die?”

“Oh, um, Heaven, if they believe in Jesus.”

“What if they don’t?”
“Um, Hell, I think.”
“OK well do they go straight to Hell? Because I have heard people say that. Do they meet Jesus first and then Jesus sends them there? What if Jesus forgets I believe in Jesus and accidentally sends me there? Will you be in Heaven when I get there?”

We have now reached the point in the conversation where I basically look like this:

I am a believer. I believe that Jesus died so I could spend eternity in Heaven. I believe John 3:16, “For God so loved the world that He sent His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him will not die, but have eternal life.” But I don’t have answers for like… any of Boone’s questions there. I haven’t died. I haven’t personally met someone who took a death vacation and gave me the slide show presentation of afterlife pics. But Boone looked at me so expectantly. So hungry for knowledge. And these are good questions! I didn’t want to dismiss them. So I sent up a quick help me prayer, and I responded.

“Buddy, I don’t know.”

“Um… what? You always know things.”

I told him no one has all of the answers. But that I believe in Jesus and I believe I will go to Heaven when I die. I don’t know what Heaven looks like, I don’t know if you and I will be the same people we are now. I believe you will go to Heaven too, if you believe in Jesus, and do not worry, God won’t get your beliefs mixed up. Then I let out the big breath I had been holding in and I asked, “hey Boone, what do you think about all of this?”

Jonah has questions also.

He basically echoed a lot of my sentiments and said his fair share of “I don’t know”s. He ended with, “but you know what? I think I’ll see you there, and we’ll be the same, you and me.”

I grew up with a very black and white view of salvation. Believe in Jesus = Heaven. Don’t believe in Jesus = Hell. End of story. Any lingering questions about Heaven of Hell were answered with “it’s perfect!” or “it’s terrible!” and that was that. It wasn’t until I was much older that I started to really own the questions I had about my faith. Until I wrestled with these thoughts, I don’t think I really had the same understanding about my faith. It wasn’t personal.

I want my children to believe everything I believe. It’s true. They’re my little human copies, right? I want us to be on the same page about everything. But I know that won’t happen. If my father’s deep love of olives on pizza (double olives on pizza – WHAT) is any indication, kids just don’t always follow in their parents footsteps. And if kids did just blindly follow, would my dad like that I ate his terrible olive pizza even if I hated it? Maybe, I mean, because he’d probably have been able to order it more, but I think he’d be happier if I ate it because I truly enjoyed the nuance of the rubbery seawater taste of those awful little black and green fruits? Nuts? Fungi? What the heck are olives, anyway?

Back to my point. I want Boone and Jonah to share in my beliefs, but I want them to make it personal. They need to think and hear and choose for themselves. And in order to help this along… I have to say “I don’t know.” I will tell them what I think. But I will be honest about what I know — and what I don’t.

For someone who lives with answers at her fingertips, it’s hard to admit what I don’t know. Especially to the little people I’m raising. But I truly believe to help our children find the answers, we’ll have to admit that we don’t have them.

school days and the introverted mom  

I love you, people. I do.

I just want you to… go away. Sometimes! I just want you to go away sometimes. It would be helpful if I could control everyone’s proximity to me, actually. Like, right now, I’m a party of one in a sushi restaurant typing and drinking tea. It’s beautiful, and I love being alone, but I wouldn’t mind if a friend walked in right now and sat down. There are other times when I am sitting alone and can’t silently plead with my eyes enough for anyone nearby to please just stay away. This isn’t because I’m a terrible person (at least, that’s what I tell myself).

It’s because I’m an introvert.

I love people, but being around them for too long is exhausting. I can’t begin to explain how my energy takes a toll when I’m around people, even my best friends and family. I know that I need to have regular periods of time where I can recharge by myself or I’ll get cranky and tired. 

To sum up: group projects aren’t my jam. To make it through the group project that is life, I have to guard my time carefully. I spend A LOT of time with the little people I created. At the end of the day, I usually need to unwind instead of running off to meet friends or attend to other responsibilities outside of the house.

(That’s not to say I never do these things. I just don’t constantly do them.) 

When Boone started kindergarten, I knew I had to make a plan for the kind of “school mom” I’d be. This led me to create the following list, so fellow introvert-mamas, buckle up! This one’s for you. (Extrovert mamas, keep on doing you. Thanks for visiting the classroom and working on the playground while I throw Starbucks gift cards at the teachers and send the occasional encouraging email. But hey, extro-moms, maybe keep reading anyway so you see how the rest of us feel about things? Thanks; you’re the best.)

Jonah’s an introvert, but he is also a toddler, so he does not have to be polite about reaching his people limit.

1. FACEBOOK.

Mamas, let Facebook be your friend. I’m not saying immediately friend your child’s teacher (you’ll both want a semi-safe space on the Internet), but I am saying expand your friends list to include fellow moms in your chid’s class. Before we started this journey called school, all of Boone’s friends were essentially the children of my friends. Oh sure, we’d play up the kid-friendship so they wouldn’t think we were actually going to a play date for mommy. I knew my friends well, and we usually had pretty similar parenting styles, so I never felt like they were judging how I did something. Once school began, however, new names entered the friends list. There’s every chance these names will stick around for a long time. (I mean, I met my husband during my school journey, so I generally think long-term.) 

Facebook is a great way for introverts to connect with the world. While in person I may occasionally come across as bored or awkward or tired or aloof, I can proof-read comments on Facebook. I can learn real things about people that won’t naturally come up in first conversations. I’m not the queen of small talk. I need real content or I start making bad jokes. It’s only fun for a little while, and then it just seems sad.

2. DO WHAT YOU CAN.

So you want to help in the classroom but the thought of being surrounded by 20-something kids who all have needs and stories sounds awful? Email the teacher and ask if she has any paperwork you can do, extra school supplies you can buy, or basically anything you can do by yourself and drop off later. There’s a reason why this world is divided into extroverts and introverts — somebody needs to listen to all of the kid-stories, and somebody else needs to run the copy machine.

3. GIFTS NEVER HURT ANYBODY.

OK, before you think I buy friendships, hear me out. I’m not talking about a weekly delivery of a dozen roses sent right into your child’s classroom. That… could potentially send the wrong message. I’m talking about the occasional $5 gift card to Starbucks with a note that says “You’re amazing… and probably tired; get some coffee.” The gift doesn’t have to be a tangible thing, either; a quick email with a cute story your child told you about school would also spread some joy. Teachers get a LOT of emails everyday. Between district requirements, classroom issues, school functions, and probably a million spam emails from fundraising companies, a real, brief, heartfelt note could really brighten a day.

4. STEP OUTSIDE YOUR COMFORT ZONE.

Last year I helped plan an “Elegant Kindergarten Graduation Event.” I stopped for iced coffee on my way to planning meetings and psyched myself up in my car before hand. You can do this… You are a valuable member of this team… Team work makes the dream work. And it did! The small group of event planners pulled off a wonderful experience for the kids and their parents. Some planners played bigger roles than others, but in the end, everyone did what they could and the event was a success.

5. GRACE.

Give grace to every teacher, every student, every office worker, every janitor, every lunch attendant, every parent, just everyone that you come across. We all know everyone is fighting a battle we know nothing about, so give grace so freely. The mom you think is rude could be having a rough season. The dad who misses school events could be working overtime to provide for his family. The mom who stands quietly in the background (hey) could be a great friend when she relaxes a bit and stops trying too hard to make a relevant and hilarious joke about essentially anything.

Boone is an extrovert who needs people so much, he’ll befriend store mannequins if that’s all that is available.

Happy school year, moms and dads. Whether you parent a school lover, a school hater, or a school-indifferenter, I hope this is your best year yet. And if it isn’t, let’s go get coffee or wine and chat about it.

Just please let’s be done when I want to be done.

I’ll have some sort of signal so I don’t seem rude. 

I’ll tug on my left ear and you’ll say “BOY, I AM TIRED NOW, BETTER GET GOING.”

Thanks. 

You’re a peach.

Really. 

the ins and outs

When John was a three, I took him to a two-hour mini “preschool” run by college students. He had never done any sort of school or daycare before, and I wondered how he would do. I prepped him often. “What do you do if you have to go to the bathroom?” “Who are you supposed to listen to?” “Remember to share!” I was newly, secretly pregnant with Ev, and I was probably a bit too emotional about everything. I needn’t have worried, however. When we arrived, he looked at me and said, “OK mama. You can go now” and walked into the classroom without me.

John: "Hooray, friends!"
John: “Hooray, friends!”

The first time I took Ev to a toddler storytime, and nearly every time since, he eyes all of the other kids, huddles close to me for a second, and then crawls or walks away from the crowd.

Ev: "Hooray, me!"
Ev: “Hooray, me!”

John is a classic extrovert. He comes alive when he is around other people, even if they don’t particularly feel like talking to or playing with him (but they usually do). John has friends everywhere. He loves friends. Anytime we go to a place where friends reside, he says “bye mama!” and I take a seat on the bench while he finds someone more interesting.

Ev is young. He’s almost 18 months, but I can see the introvert in him. He loves to go to bed — not to immediately go to sleep, but to decompress alone in his room. When I lay him down, he smiles. When I leave, I can hear him talking and singing to himself, sometimes for a half hour before succumbing to sleep.

I am an introvert. I love John, but he exhausts me. He is always going, going, going… and if I’m not at his level, he gets frustrated. Now that he reads, I can encourage some quality reading time, which basically means “go find friends in a book and let mama rest for a minute.”

I never have to pry things out of him, though. Even if he answers my “what did you do at school?” question with “I’ll tell you later,” he does tell me later. I don’t know if Ev will. We’ll talk, I’m sure, but I don’t know how free he will be with information.

It shocks me everyday to see how different these two boys are. I have tried to parent Ev the same way, and I realized that the constant play dates and times with friends just aren’t as vital to him. They’re good for him, and I’ll keep taking him to things, but we will approach socialization so differently.

Neither child is better than the other, but they explore the world in such different ways. I don’t have stellar “here’s how you parent every personality type!” bullet points, but I can remind you that your children will show you what they need. Sometimes your child will put up a fight when you leave a park full of friends; it isn’t because he is rude and disrespectful, but that he was energized and engaged and now he won’t be. I try and give John this grace when he fights me after the words “time to go, buddy,” and I hope other moms at the park give it as well.

It doesn’t really matter if you can assign your child a personality type or not. It doesn’t really matter if you can assign yourself a personality type or not. It matters that you observe, adapt, and understand that incredibly different individuals can and likely do live under your roof.

So how can we parent little people who are so different from us? We can be our best selves. Know yourself and be authentic. Make mistakes, and let your children make mistakes. Give and receive grace freely. And when all else fails, read some Shel Silverstein:

Don’t Tell Me

Please don’t tell me I should hug,
Don’t tell me I should care.
Don’t tell me just how grand I’d feel
If I just learned to share.
Don’t say “It’s all right to cry,”
“Be kind,” “Be fair,” “Be true.”
Just let me see YOU do it,
Then I might do it too.