Ruby Slippers (about a birthday)

Some babies, they come into this world according to plan. They are perfectly timed and perfectly prepared for. Everything is just right.

My babies are not those babies. None of them were a surprise or anything. There are two kinds of fertility plans in our household. Plan number one is called “don’t get pregnant.” It involves the prevention of pregnancy. Plan number two is called “see what happens.” It involves not doing things that prevent pregnancy and results in a baby more or less immediately. Yes. I know. We are those people. Feel free to hate or, whatever. My point though, is that we have never been overly worried about making sure everything is perfect when we had our babies. If we had been, we still wouldn’t have any.

Our third child is 3 today. He came into our lives in a very not perfect time. And you know what? He was the perfect thing at the time. He was perfectly timed.

I liken him to the tornado in The Wizard of Oz. Life was going along the way it was going along, and we were in the midst of a situation when this tornado shows up, blows us away and I found myself one day, waking up in a strange place surrounded by singing and dancing munchkins.

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No, really. How did I get here? It just sort of happened, and it turns out that it’s a pretty cool place, where our tornado landed us.

And that is motherhood. These kids, they sometimes show up how we want, when we want, with life going just the way we want. But mostly, they don’t. They show up when they show up, in whatever way we can get them here – and sometimes it’s a stork that brings them with a big shiny bow, but other times it’s a whirlwind with a crack upside the head. Thank God for the whirlwind.

My baby boy is 3 years old. In these 3 years I have forgotten what life was like before him. I have learned how to be calm in the storm that brought the whirlwind. Today is the first time in 7.5 years that I have not had a baby boy 2 or under. My baby boy years are done now, and it is bittersweet. I’ve not ever wished for ruby slippers – never wished I could click my heels and go back to the way things were. I am already home, with my singing and dancing munchkins in a strange world that I sometimes feel like I dreamed up. In this Oz-land I have found my heart, my brains, and my courage. Mothering does that. It shows us what we’re made of.

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Happy birthday to the little whirlwind who changed everything. We wouldn’t change a single thing.

copyright (c) 2013 Jenna Pelias // all rights reserved

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Too Many Books

Before I write down what I have to write down, here’s a poem that I did not write:

Television

The most important thing we’ve learned,
So far as children are concerned,
Is never, NEVER, NEVER let
Them near your television set —
Or better still, just don’t install
The idiotic thing at all.
In almost every house we’ve been,
We’ve watched them gaping at the screen.
They loll and slop and lounge about,
And stare until their eyes pop out.
(Last week in someone’s place we saw
A dozen eyeballs on the floor.)
They sit and stare and stare and sit
Until they’re hypnotised by it,
Until they’re absolutely drunk
With all that shocking ghastly junk.
Oh yes, we know it keeps them still,
They don’t climb out the window sill,
They never fight or kick or punch,
They leave you free to cook the lunch
And wash the dishes in the sink —
But did you ever stop to think,
To wonder just exactly what
This does to your beloved tot?
IT ROTS THE SENSE IN THE HEAD!
IT KILLS IMAGINATION DEAD!
IT CLOGS AND CLUTTERS UP THE MIND!
IT MAKES A CHILD SO DULL AND BLIND
HE CAN NO LONGER UNDERSTAND
A FANTASY, A FAIRYLAND!
HIS BRAIN BECOMES AS SOFT AS CHEESE!
HIS POWERS OF THINKING RUST AND FREEZE!
HE CANNOT THINK — HE ONLY SEES!
‘All right!’ you’ll cry. ‘All right!’ you’ll say,
‘But if we take the set away,
What shall we do to entertain
Our darling children? Please explain!’
We’ll answer this by asking you,
‘What used the darling ones to do?
‘How used they keep themselves contented
Before this monster was invented?’
Have you forgotten? Don’t you know?
We’ll say it very loud and slow:
THEY … USED … TO … READ! They’d READ and READ,
AND READ and READ, and then proceed
To READ some more. Great Scott! Gadzooks!
One half their lives was reading books!
The nursery shelves held books galore!
Books cluttered up the nursery floor!
And in the bedroom, by the bed,
More books were waiting to be read!
Such wondrous, fine, fantastic tales
Of dragons, gypsies, queens, and whales
And treasure isles, and distant shores
Where smugglers rowed with muffled oars,
And pirates wearing purple pants,
And sailing ships and elephants,
And cannibals crouching ’round the pot,
Stirring away at something hot.
(It smells so good, what can it be?
Good gracious, it’s Penelope.)
The younger ones had Beatrix Potter
With Mr. Tod, the dirty rotter,
And Squirrel Nutkin, Pigling Bland,
And Mrs. Tiggy-Winkle and-
Just How The Camel Got His Hump,
And How the Monkey Lost His Rump,
And Mr. Toad, and bless my soul,
There’s Mr. Rat and Mr. Mole-
Oh, books, what books they used to know,
Those children living long ago!
So please, oh please, we beg, we pray,
Go throw your TV set away,
And in its place you can install
A lovely bookshelf on the wall.
Then fill the shelves with lots of books,
Ignoring all the dirty looks,
The screams and yells, the bites and kicks,
And children hitting you with sticks-
Fear not, because we promise you
That, in about a week or two
Of having nothing else to do,
They’ll now begin to feel the need
Of having something to read.
And once they start — oh boy, oh boy!
You watch the slowly growing joy
That fills their hearts. They’ll grow so keen
They’ll wonder what they’d ever seen
In that ridiculous machine,
That nauseating, foul, unclean,
Repulsive television screen!
And later, each and every kid
Will love you more for what you did.

Roald Dahl

I’m not about to write a blog about the evils of tv, so like, calm down and stuff. We have two of them and they aren’t going anywhere. But you know, we also have a small but always growing collection of books too. If we are out and my kids ask for candy or toys I can say no without a blink. If they ask for a book though, I am most likely going to say yes. They know my weakness and will exploit it shamelessly.

Our darling daughter and daring youngest son will celebrate their birthdays this week. She will be 1 on Tuesday and he will be 3 on Saturday. We had their party this weekend, and in lieu of more toys or trinkets we asked for books. You can really never have too many books and this idea went over so well that I thought I’d suggest it to others.

But I also feel the need to share some other thoughts. My kids are growing up too fast. I don’t mean in the sentimental way where it feels like time is slipping away and all that. I mean that my oldest is literally growing up too fast. His friends are allowed to play video games we won’t even let him *watch* being played, and they are allowed to watch tv shows that we won’t even consider. Are we too conservative? Are their parents not conservative enough? Who’s to say, really, and that’s not my point anyway.

My point is, that kids need to know who Roald Dahl is long before they are introduced to Call of Duty. Shouldn’t they? I think so. There is something wrong with childhood today. It’s too short and getting shorter. Our kids can control the remote before they know the alphabet. They can navigate the internet before they can read a chapter book. When did that happen? When did we stop valuing literacy above entertainment? When did we stop valuing literacy AS entertainment?

I know that tv isn’t all bad. There are plenty of kids who will never see a library before they start school. There are kids who will never have an adult count or color or sing the abc’s with them. Shows for preschoolers like Sesame Street and Super Why and Sid the Science Kid (love that kid) are better than nothing in the absence of books before school. There are shows like Little Bear that tell imaginative stories shared between sweet friends. I hope that kids who live in homes where there is no sweetness or imagination get to see shows like Little Bear. And let’s be real. We have all kinds of video games in our house and my kids are not strangers to the television. Mateo and Andreas BOTH learned their letters and letter sounds by watching The Letter Factory DVD. Starfall.com and abcya.com are in regular rotation on our computer.

Oh but they love to read. Mateo is on Geronimo Stilton at the moment, and Andreas is reading short, simple, repetitive early readers. Olivier is learning his letters and Rosalie likes to chew on the books. Sometimes she’ll sit and look at the pictures. If I sit down with a book there is pandemonium as my kids make a beeline to sit with me and hear the story. We are currently on our third copy of The Very Hungry Caterpillar and I’ve already had to tape the cover back together once.

So what? So read. Read with your babies and toddlers and little kids and big ones. Read to them while they’re falling to sleep and when they’re playing and when they’re excited and when you’re in the car. But not if you’re driving. Don’t read while you’re driving.

If you don’t have kids of your own, but you have kids in your life somehow – own children’s books. Have them at the ready when kids are at your house. Give them as gifts at baby showers and birthday parties and Christmas. Ask those children what they are reading and what their favorite book is. Let them tell you stories.

Maybe you are thinking, “but books are expensive. Not everyone can afford to buy books all the time.” No. Stupidity is expensive. Ignorance is expensive. Children’s books are a buck or less at the Goodwill last I checked. And library cards for children are free or $5 or something cheap for the whole entire year. So if you are a parent, or an auntie or uncle, a grandma or grandpa, a friend or a neighbor – invest in the literacy skills of the kids in your life. If you are already doing so, keep doing it. If the kids are shrieking with delight at the flashy toys and video games, and putting the books to the side, keep bringing books. Toys break and video games get boring. The books will eventually get picked up and read.

I still have my collection of Little House On the Prairie books from childhood. I saved them for my kids. The library was my favorite place growing up. I want my kids to love reading because it will take them wherever they want to go. I want them to value stories because I want them to be able to value their own story someday.

So bring on the books. Piles and piles of them. Throw them in mommy’s shopping cart. Bat your eyelashes while waving the book order forms in front of me. There’s no such thing as too many books in this house.

copyright (c) 2013 Jenna Pelias // all rights reserved

On Halloween

I think I may actually offend many of the church going people I know with this post. I’m not sorry. Just so we’re clear, you know – in advance.

(*Edited to add that when this post was written in 2012, the only people who read it were my church going friends who really know me, and they know that when I say I might offend them, that I’m saying so in a let’s-still-be-friends-even-if-we-disagree, kind of way. I did not expect this blog to blow up the way it did the following year in 2013. I did not intend to offend the church going people everywhere, all the time. Holy smokes. But that seems to be what happened, however unintentional.)

Every Halloween it’s the same silly thing.

People getting annoyed with the gore. The focus on death. The devil. The blood.

And you know, I’m not a huge fan of all that stuff either. In fact I’m kind of a basket case with it, to the point I don’t even watch commercials for scary movies. So totally not my thing. But as I sat in my van tonight listening to Christmas music while watching Glenn and the boys knock on my parents’ neighbor’s doors, I was struck by something.

This is the only night of the entire year that most of your neighbors and mine are going to come knocking on our doors. The only night.

And what is the typical Christian response to this?

1. To go to church and hide from our neighbors at a “harvest party” with costumes and candy.
(FYI – nobody is fooled. Unless you live on a farm or have a grow op in your basement we all know that there isn’t any harvest going on. I will concede however that in some places the only viable way to participate in Halloween at all is to go to some sort of church or community party. Do your thing. It’s all good.)

or

2. To turn off the lights and ignore the door bell for the evening.

I’m sure that both of those things are going a long way toward the command to love our neighbors. Jesus didn’t know anything about blood or torture or dying a gruesome death. The devil was definitely not there when Jesus died for and saved all of humanity.

Right?

I’m not here to try to sit down and come up with something redeeming about this holiday. There is nothing redeeming about it in the Christian sense of that word. But really, so what? Are so many of us really willing to keep our lights off and our doors closed because the neighbors are coming calling for candy instead of Jesus? Are we really sitting on our couches the other 364 days of the year waiting for them to show up looking for a revival? What exactly is so redeemed about the rest of the nights of the year? Lights are out, door is locked, nobody has a clue from the outside that Jesus is home.

Before I was a Christian myself, which didn’t happen until I was nearly 18, Halloween was the most innocent, stupid fun night of the year. Whatever the historical or spiritual origins of Halloween may be, I was like most kids and families who were then and still are today just in it for the fun and candy. That’s it. The dark side of Halloween was off limits for us. My parents aren’t into that either. Those houses with the people we knew were ignoring us? We figured they were religious nuts or hated kids or both. Obviously as an adult now, I do realize that there are people new to the country who don’t have a clue what’s going on. Or people who have backgrounds of trauma or cultural reasons for not participating. Or people who don’t get kids at their door in the first place. Or communities where trick or treating doesn’t make sense so everyone goes to a big party. This is not meant to offend anyone in those or other groups who just don’t or can’t participate.

When we were kids, the houses with the really bloody, awful decorations? Skipped them. Christians aren’t the only ones who aren’t into that stuff. The houses we liked the best were the ones with cool pumpkins and friendly faces at the door. My kids are the same way now. They don’t like the front lawns with zombie arms coming out of the ground and tombstones and skeletons and some creepy guy who looks half dead at the door. A lot of kids don’t. One year one of our more zealous neighbors took apart a bunch of toy baby dolls and covered the limbs in fake blood before scattering them around his yard. Classy. My kids literally ran past his house to the one with the lights on and nothing that would give them nightmares at the door.

May I suggest that you have neighbors who just want their kids to have fun and be safe on Halloween? They aren’t biting heads off of small animals or chanting spells or making voodoo dolls out of your likeness. They are normal people. I know this because I was one. I am one for crying out loud. Your neighbors are not out to get you. They just want you to meet them. To say hello. To share some candy. To be nice to their kids.

If Jesus can go straight to hell, stare death and devil in the face, win and come back alive, why can’t we open our doors to the 6 year old in a Batman costume and his shivering mom?

Why. Can’t. We?

I’m not denying that there are some really dark and disturbing things about this holiday that we don’t need to expose ourselves or our children to. Those church events may be the best place to party like it’s 1999 on Halloween for lots of families. I’m not assuming to know what is best for every person everywhere. I’m just saying that hiding from this holiday and the opportunity to meet our neighbors and/or their awesome kids may not always be the best way to approach it. So if you’re torn or on the fence or not sure how to deal with this very polarizing day for the Christian world, here are some thoughts:

Turn your light on. Lots of lights. A city on a hill cannot be hidden right? Be a city on a hill. Halloween may not be “redeemed” but you are. So open your door and smile.

If you don’t want to give away candy, give away something else. This year my kids got packets with juice boxes, raisins and prepackaged cookies. The kids may not jump for joy (mine didn’t) but hey – Halloween is the last day of the month. That kid’s mom or dad might not have done groceries yet since being paid, and that snack pack may be the best thing in the kid’s lunch the next day. You seriously never know. I’ve lived in a neighborhood where I can guarantee you this is true for a lot of families. I’ve seen some of those kids’ lunches. It ain’t always pretty. The kids also got play dough this year, and have received little pencils and notebooks in the past. There are some very fun, creative people out there who just want to do something nice for the neighborhood. Be one of those people!

Or give away the biggest, best candy on the entire block. Be the house that every kid in your neighborhood goes to every year because you are the awesome house with the best treats and nicest people at the door. You don’t have to like Halloween to be the best thing that ever happened to it in your neighborhood. My husband’s family lives across the street from the house I lived in when I was a kid. And I happen to know that another house, just down the street, gives out the best candy in the neighborhood. When we stopped by to visit Glenn’s brother and family tonight, I sent my kids to that house down the street, and sure enough those super nice people with the good candy were still there, 19 years later. I love those people and I don’t even know them! Now my kids think they rock too. I want to be those people. Seriously.

Decorate. I saw a sign for a house near us that put up a pumpkin patch on their lawn. What a great idea! We didn’t get there because we were trick or treating at my mom and dad’s (they watched Rosalie), but I am so stealing that idea when we live in a house that gets trick or treaters.

Or throw a little carnival on your lawn. Rent a popcorn machine and haul out a portable fire pit if you have one for the moms and dads to warm their hands. Get a cooler full of water bottles. Rent a coffee urn and buy a huge bag of disposable coffee cups. Put some carnival games on your lawn and make the kids win their candy. I don’t know. Just do something fun. Something different. Something memorable.

You may still hate Halloween and avoid it at all costs. That’s fair. It’s not for everybody. But hey, it’s over now so you’ve got a whole year to mull it over. Give Halloween a chance. Be a blessing. Love your neighbor. Even if you think the whole thing is just awful. Jesus didn’t come to redeem a day. He came to redeem lives and all we have to do to be part of that is to love our neighbors. Not preach at them. Not throw Bible verses in the Halloween bag instead of candy. Just love them. It’s so easy. It’s so worth it. And seriously, it’s so much fun.

One day this world and everything in it will pass away, including Halloween. What will be left will be lives. If the only chance we have to make an impression on some of our neighbors is on Halloween, we may as well make it the best impression possible. Let Jesus handle the blood and the gore and the death. He’s done it before, after all.

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Due to the overwhelming response to this blog, I wrote a follow up in 2014 which can be found here.

I also posted this status on my blog facebook page:

Halloween is dark and scary and gory. Yes it is. But there kids and there are families, in every neighbourhood in my country and yours, who see, hear, and experience darker, scarier, and gorier things than Halloween all the time. Halloween is not scary to them because they have experienced real horror, and real terror. And believe it or not, Halloween, for some kids, is the LEAST scary thing they’re going to experience this month or this year. For some kids, it’s the most fun and least threatening thing they will do.

And so, if Halloween is the MOST scary night you can think of, or that you’ve experienced. You are blessed, my friends. And the world needs your light. It needs it bad.

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As of November 1, 2013 comments on this post are closed.
As of 2017, comments have been REOPENED. Please be respectful.

Fall 2014 at the pumpkin patch.
Fall 2014 at the pumpkin patch.
Fall 2014, Just playing with pumpkins.
Fall 2014, Just playing with pumpkins.

copyright (c) 2012 Jenna Pelias // all rights reserved