Children


Are they listening?Do you ever wonder if kids “get it“?

Recently I have been examining my life and what kind of parent I have been so far. The results have been less than inspiring. My GPA in Parenting would be only slightly higher than the average GPA of those boy’s from Delta house… before the Toga Party.

Sometimes you wonder, “Am I doing the right thing?” “Do they understand?” “Am I getting through?” Especially now that they are teen-agers, I wonder, “Am I doing everything the best I can?” “Will they be scarred for life?!” or “Will they be okay in spite of my failings and poor parenting?” The angst of parenting…

Then from out nowhere comes a Bolt of lightning  that illuminates your self-imposed Apocalyptic scenario and fills your heart with hope. Hope that they “get it” and you are not a complete dismal failure as a parent (just a partial dismal failure). I had one of those moments today as I listened in on the raving and ranting of my teenage daughter. A bad day at school was compounded by her having a sore throat and not feeling too well. She was in rare form and far from being dismayed about her tirade I was completely ecstatic!

Why, you may ask, was I overjoyed to hear my teen-age daughter on the warpath? It was the subject matter that had me completely enthralled. I would like to quote her and let you hear what had me cheering her on. She was on a roll about what had taken place in one of her classes today (and probably more than just one of them). I have to preface these remarks by stating my children attend a Private Christian School. Here’s what she was going on about…

I’m sick of people not listening in class. All they do is go to school to socialize. Yeah, you have friends there, but class time is not socialize time unless you’re NOT doing anything as a class! They don’t care about their grades, which will be sad when they try and get into college because they won’t be able to. Then, they will blame it on other people, when really the only ones to blame will be them selves. They can’t even shut-up long enough to hear anything that is going on in class. I just want to tell them, ‘Why waste your parents money if you’re not going to do anything? Also, the teachers need more respect than that because the are spending their time to help us… when they could be doing another job for less hassle. If you want to socialize then go to a public school where at least you are not wasting your parents hard earned money.’”

Wow! You go girl! This is from my little girl? My little ‘freshman’?

Cha-ching! She gets it, she really gets it! Boo-yaa! Game, Set, Match!

This is not coming from a wall flower either, this little firebrand is outgoing and very social. Yet, she knows her goals and she realizes that the game began on the first day of class, this her freshman year. The clock is ticking and we are keeping score. From this point forward she is racing toward college and she can see that what she is doing now, does count. That is why she got so upset with her classmates today, their selfishness is not just hurting them but it hurts her and all the rest who are counting on good grades to help them get to college.

That’s the kind of argument that makes a parent proud!

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What did we do with all of our time before Youtube?

It was a mild September Sunday. I was languidly perusing the pages of a book when I was startled by a cry from my wife on the opposite end of the house. As I hurried to the location of the sound, she met me in the kitchen waving a small, plastic wand. “It’s positive!” she declared as she danced about the dining table. I stood there blinking as my world rolled off of its axis. There are some things for which we can never prepare ourselves; the announcement of a child is one of them.

The arrival of a pregnancy to hopeful parents brings with it a kaleidoscope of feelings. Emotion washes over you as intense and irresistible as a tidal wave.  Surges of joy and trepidation accompany moments of pride and apprehension as you begin to grapple with a new identity. Parenthood looms over you – promising, threatening, and wonderful.
As time passed I watched my wife transform into a swollen version of that person who danced around me in the kitchen (the dancing had stopped by the fifth month). Morning sickness and mood swings dominated our household as the tiny life within her asserted his presence. Books and videos on parenthood became our primary source of information and many hours were spent in breathless silence as we awaited another kick.

Six months into the pregnancy, a routine doctor’s appointment revealed that Stephanie had developed preeclampsia. This meant critically high blood pressure that was a serious danger to both Stephanie and the baby. She was placed on strict bed rest until delivery, and we were warned that the baby would probably be coming earlier than either of us expected.

And that is precisely what happened. On April 21, 2003 (just six weeks later) Stephanie was admitted into the hospital for an induced labor delivery. That night the doctor informed us that he had scheduled the delivery for the next morning and that we should try to get some sleep. My wife followed his orders; I did not.

I became intimately familiar with the ceiling of my wife’s hospital room that night as I gazed up at it, listening to the seconds tick by on my wristwatch. I was overwhelmed with a feeling strangely akin to the Christmas Eve’s of my childhood. In a matter of hours I would be a father. The thought exhilarated me and terrified me at the same time.
Sunrise came and flooded the room with light. April 22 had arrived and so had the nurses to escort my wife to the delivery room. Pain, fear, and wonder ensued and at 10:00 that morning I was handed a bundle of blankets that had a tiny face inside staring up at me. And this is the point in this narrative when words can no longer fulfill their function in conveying true meaning. At that moment I experienced such emotion that to try to describe it would only risk sentimentality.

Perhaps the only way to explain it is to say that at that moment I felt as though I were holding an extension of myself transformed into a new person.  A life that was indivisibly linked to me in its origin, yet completely individual in its actuality and potential. I was astonished by how fiercely I could love a face that I had only seen for a few moments. I wanted to tell him all of this. I wanted him to let him know how incredibly special he was; how much he had changed me. But I could not find the words and he would not have understood if I had.

This time five years ago, I was expecting our first child.  My pregnancy had been normal as I slowly watched my feet disappear under my expanding belly.  Nausea in the first trimester gave way to butterfly-like feelings in my abdomen.  What a miracle!  My body had become a home for this tiny person that I did not know yet, but whom I loved intensely. Each month ticked away with a visit to the doctor.  “All is well” was each report…that is until the first week of March. 

The week started out terribly.  I got a speeding ticket.  How could a State Trooper give me, a pregnant woman, a ticket?  Sure I was speeding, but who could blame me as distracted as I was?  It did not even bother him that I cried as I squeezed out from behind the steering wheel to find my registration.  This could not be happening, we did not need this extra expense with a baby coming.

The week only got worse.  I went to my normal check up, expecting the same “all is well” tag, but when my doctor came in,  the expression on her face spread panic through my heart. 

“What’s wrong?” I implored.  I had not even been officially checked yet.  They had only gotten my weight, blood pressure and made me pee in a cup.

“You are showing the early signs of preeclampsia, otherwise known as toxemia.” she almost seemed to whisper from the other end of a tunnel.

“What is that?  How can this be?  Things have been going so well.  What is going to happen to me and my baby?” 

“Preeclampsia is basically where your body is rejecting the baby.  Your blood pressure starts to creep up and protein shows up in your urine.  We are going to write you out of work until delivery and put you on strict bedrest.  We don’t want you to even walk outside to check the mail.  Rest, stay put as much as possible, for your sake and for the sake of your baby.”

I could not be written out of work, I had only trained my back-up for one day.  She was not prepared.  What was my boss going to say?  Josh was not with me at this visit. What would he say?  I could not even talk to him when I called, so I had to get the doctor to repeat what she had said to me.  “It’s going to be okay.” He assured me, but my emotions were telling me otherwise.

The next six weeks are kind of fuzzy to me.  People of the church fixed meals for us because if the meal planning were left to Josh, we would have cereal, Chef Boyardee and eggs everyday, although he would have meant heartily well.  I had days that I spent in fellowship with my Father and felt His love assure me that no matter what happened, this was all part of His plan.  Then I had days that I could not feel His presence and I cried…anxious over what would happen to my baby, starving for fellowship outside these four walls, and from just plain boredom (how many times can you watch the PBS lineup before getting sick of it).

Baby shower time came and I feel into deeper depression.  I could not even properly register for the things we needed and wanted.  We started the process, but had to quit because I could feel my feet swelling from the rising blood pressure.  This should not be so hard to accept; it was just a luxury and I knew our family, friends and church members would make sure we had what we needed.  But I longed for everything to be as it should have been.  Even then, God assured me that this was part of His plan.

April came before long, and the doctors had made me their test subject.  I had to do a few 24-hour urine samples and store them in our fridge, yuck!  Then on April 21st, the doctors ran several tests and sent us out to wait closeby for the results.  We headed over to Barnes & Noble to peruse their new selection of books.  After what seemed like hours, they called us to come back.  “Are you ready to have this baby?” they asked.  I had not even packed my bags yet, oh great!  “We have a room ready for you.  We will induce your labor and since you are only 3 1/2 weeks early, all should be okay.”

We got settled in our room, called the family and prepared for the night.  They gave me the medicine to induce and at 5:10am the next morning my water broke.  Luke Christopher was born at 9:09am on April 22nd, just one minute shy of a 4 hour labor.  He was amazing!  This little life that we had been praying for was finally visible!   

Luke had his normal up’s-and-down’s as an infant.  Maybe a few more down’s because his lungs were a little underdeveloped, but now he is a healthy, happy, lively little boy.  I look back on those days and I can see how God protected us, provided for us and used it all to teach me about His faithfulness and His friendship.  All of this was in His plan.

Wonder

Forty dollars is far too much to pay to look at fish.  But I bought tickets anyway to the Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies for me and my wife.  I consoled myself, however, with the fact that my seven month old son would get in free.  Indeed the primary reason for this outing was to impart to him an early interest in nature by exposing him to the wonders of the sea. 

I glanced down at Luke’s stroller as we left the ticket booth and meandered our way through the crowd to the main entrance.  He had just completed a cavernous yawn and was blinking his eyes heavily.  “Make sure he doesn’t go to sleep,” I quipped to my wife, “I don’t want him to miss a moment of this.”

At last we entered the great glass doors of the aquarium and were instantly greeted by the smell of salt water and air conditioning.  A giant, cylindrical fish tank stood like a pillar of crystal just in front of us.  Inside, a kaleidoscope of fish darted about in all directions.  I pulled out my camera so that I would be able to capture Luke’s first expression of surprise.        

It was here that my disappointment began.  Rather than the vibrant curiosity I expected, my camera lens was greeted by yet another yawn as Luke eased back into his stroller with a settled air of indifference.   I began to point vigorously at the tank with cries of “look!” and “fishy!”, but in spite of my gesticulations, my son remained unmoved.  “He must be overwhelmed with it all,” I remarked to my wife. 

“He just looks bored to me,” she replied as we began to stroll down the walkway to the various exhibits.

In spite of my initial disappointment, I was determined that my son be thrilled and enlightened by this experience.  As we proceeded through the aquarium I made every effort to stoke his interest.  I positioned his stroller in front of every tank so that he would have an excellent view of its contents.  I read every placard to him and we watched every video that accompanied the exhibits.  I even broke the rules at the horseshoe crab-petting station by picking up one of the writhing creatures so that he could touch it.  This only drew a shriek of terror from my son which, in turn, caused me to drop the crab and drench my shirt in the process.

At last we neared the end of the tour.  We had seen everything from sharks to salamanders, yet nothing had sparked Luke’s interest.  It seemed that there was nothing in this multi-million dollar facility that would excite my son.  As we rounded the final corner I despaired of ever seeing his curiosity aroused.    That is, until we came upon the giant spider crab exhibit. 

Strategically positioned at the end of the aquarium tour, the giant spider crab is certain to dissolve the most stalwart apathy.  Imagine a common daddy longlegs on steroids complete with spiky armor and three foot long legs and you will get some idea of the spider crab’s appearance as it sat perched on a large rock in its murky, cylindrical tank.  This, I was certain, would grab Luke’s attention.

I wheeled his stroller next to the tank and knelt down beside him to await his response.  At first nothing happened.  Then Luke carefully stretched his hands out before him as a look of absolute wonder enveloped his face.  A sense of satisfaction steadily grew within me until I noticed that there was something strange about the way his eyes were set, as though his focus was upon something much nearer than the brooding creature in the tank before him.  I watched in amazement as Luke slowly flexed his tiny fingers up and down with a look of utter concentration on his brow.  My son had discovered his hands.