Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Because It Matters...

Friday morning, I was driving home from dropping my kids off at school when I realized our iPod was missing from the van. The van had been parked in our driveway, in our safe, secluded, little neighborhood overnight. I assumed Mark had grabbed it to take it to work so I called him when I got home. He didn't have it. After tearing the van apart, the reality slowly hit us. Someone had stolen our iPod.

It has been a rough road for us financially for quite some time. Having been crushed by the housing crisis, we work hard to keep our heads above water. We scrimp and save and have to plan for the simplest outing. We budget for months before making bigger purchases. Our iPod had been a gift to our family last Christmas. We do not have a lot of electronic gadgets in our home but wanted to have a way to carry our music with us and help our kids to stay somewhat current electronically. We made a plan that we would share the iPod, make individual play lists and check it out of our home as one would check out a library book. More often than not though, we used it in the van. With an adaptor on hand, we enjoyed listening to music we all like while driving from event to event or on longer trips. Personally, I love to use it when I work out. The radio feature was so helpful to me. I could listen to things I enjoy while jogging on the treadmill. Having it stolen means not having it. The whole ordeal was so discouraging because it served as another reminder of our tough financial place. It was a luxury item and one I cannot afford to replace.

Oddly, nothing else in the van was touched. Not my purse or Mark's wallet. Everything else was exactly as we left it... except for the missing iPod. Mark mentioned this fact when talking to friends at work and found they had experienced a similar thing. Money left in the vehicle, only the iPod taken. Mark's friends surmised that the theft was likely committed by a teen who simply wants an iPod and does not have one. Surely an adult, or someone with experience in theft, would take anything of value--especially cash--when rifling through someone's vehicle. A teen? Maybe not...

It makes me mad. It really does. Our iPod was stolen at night, during a rainstorm. If it was indeed taken by a teen, it makes me wanna ask, "Where is your momma??" Because if this happened just like this, some young child was out and about, AT NIGHT, unattended. We know that this person went through BOTH of our vehicles that night. Then, this child, went home soaking wet from the storm, carrying an iPod that did not belong to him or her. Did anyone notice? Did anyone see the wet clothes, the unpurchased electronics? Did anyone hear the door open and close in the dead of night when some teen left to rummage through other people's cars? I know it's a little simplistic and I know there are larger things at play. I know it could have been an adult and I know that my question might even be a little judgemental but honestly, where was this kid's mom?

My friends, losing an iPod is a small thing. It mattered to us because of bigger factors but it offered us a reminder as well. It matters. This matters. It matters that I approach my parenting with enthusiasm and purpose. It matters that I am strict with my four. It matters that they are not allowed to get away with things in our home that they know what they should not do. Because, and this is so important, it does not begin with stealing an iPod from a stranger's van! Whether the person who did this to us is an adult or a teen, the reality is that walking this road began with one small step. One decision of disobedience. One act that likely went unnoticed and then a second act was made. Do you see? It matters. It matters that we are there sitting next to our kids and helping them to find a good road. It matters that we discipline the small things and the big. It matters that we set a good example and are consistent because when the time comes for our kids to choose: work for the iPod or steal the iPod? it will be our voices in their heads that tell them they know better. See? It matters.

Today, as you love on your kids, as you discipline when needed, as you prepare meals, do laundry, work and live in and around your family, remember this: when it is hard and when it seems pointless, when you are frustrated and when you are weary, when you have said the same thing for 200th time and a new thing for the first, it is worth it. You are laying a foundation for your child that matters, not only to you, but to the world around you. You are raising your child up with accountability that will help them come to choose a better way. You are teaching them that when you do something against someone, it hurts them, and that is not okay. Today, that might be about hitting a sibling or cleaning up your mess. Tomorrow, it will mean far more. It is an investment in your family, in your community, in our world that really, truly, honestly matters.

My kids make mistakes. As they get older, the mistakes will get bigger and this is already a matter of prayer for me! But, whatever those mistakes might be, I want to know that they know better. I want to know that I have done whatever I can to help them find a better way. Some days that is easier than others. Some days, it is a mountain I don't know how to climb. But I want to keep going... for them, for me, for all of you. Because it matters.

There is one more thing. After hearing about our iPod, a couple who is dear to us went out and bought us a new one. It was a huge surprise and an overwhelming gift. We were so grateful and feel so blessed by this act of generosity. You know what though? I knew his momma, her mother-in-law. His momma was good and attentive and gracious. She made a loving impression on all her children and their spouses. She passed away several years ago, but to this day, her children still tell stories about her with tears in their eyes. It mattered. Every second she spent next to her children mattered. And matters still.

Blessings on your day.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

The Work I Love the Best

In November and December I will be in and out of churches and events all around the United States. And while I am speaking all the rest of the months of the year, those two months will be the busiest speaking months I have ever had. I honestly cannot wait. It is an overwhelming privilege to me to meet people from all over, talk with them, offer practical ideas on parenting problems... or more importantly, journey alongside them.

For those of you who wander in here to the blog and read along every day, please know that this type of talking can come right to where you are. Before I ever wrote one word on this blog, I was working as a speaker. It is what I love to do.

And I want to do it more. Who do you know that is looking for a speaker for their event, group or conference? Will you take a minute and forward this blog to them? I have limited openings this fall and several openings in the spring. I am booking well into next year and would love to fill more dates with the work I love the best.

If you are interested, or know anyone else who is, I am listing some of my most popular topics below. There is more information on my speaking ministry and my topics at http://www.nadiaswearingen-friesen.com/. I would love to meet you soon!

Blessings on your day!

A few speaking topics to review:

-Using Sticks to Build a Structure: This is my most popular talk and the topic of the book I am bringing to publishers now. I am so excited about this topic because I truly believe that it makes a difference in the lives of families. So, if you are tired of being frustrated, if you wish you didn't have to nag, if you ever wanted your children to do tasks without being asked, if you wish you could have more structure but aren't a structure kinda gal, this topic is for you.

-Growing the Spiritual Lives of our Children: We all know that having a healthy spiritual life is important. But how do we help our children to grow spiritually? This topic offers practical advice to help you work this growth into your day-to-day life. You will understand, in a brand new way, how to connect your sweet, little ones to The One who loves them best.

-How to Raise a Reader: Wish your kids would read more? Worried about helping your children love to read? This topic gives specific advice about helping children to become enthusiastic about books! Whether you have a newborn or a 15 year old, you can effect change in this area for your child. Specific titles are suggested along with easy ideas to bring literacy into the forefront of your family life.

-Connecting to Christmas: In the midst of so much hoopla, the truth about Christmas can get lost in the clutter. What if we could focus on the real meaning behind this important holiday in a way that is fun and honest and celebratory? This talk offers plenty of practical advice to help this Christmas be one that holds deep, meaningful family memories for you and your children.

-How to Get Back Outside: Wander down a neighborhood street in the middle of summer and you may not see one child outside. With electronic gadgets vying for childhood attentions, there are fewer and fewer children who even know how to play outside. How can we help our children to regain the wonder of unstructured play? What value does this hold? This talk helps motivate parents to encourage outdoor free-play. Supported by many current statistics and studies, this is an important topic for our families today!

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Perspective


Ever have a bad day? Ever get caught in the cycle of wishing things were different than they are? That totally happens to me.


Lately, I find myself wishing:


-Our budget would balance

-Our house would sell

-My book would get published

-Our money stress would ease up

-Tuition was free

-The economy would improve

-Layoffs would end

-My kids wouldn't talk back

-My house was cleaner

-My dog was groomed

-My daughter would eat better

-My son would eat more

-Our laundry would get done

-There would be less paper mess in our home

-I could lose weight AND eat

-I would be less tired

-I would read more

-I would write more

-I would be less stressed, less worried, less...


One worry builds on another. One stress exposes the next. It is easy to spiral down into a place where all I see around me is another thing to wish about... I hate that. Does that ever happen to you?


This morning as drove into the parking lot at school with my kids, I prayed with them for their day. With my heart weary from worry, I focused on the little things. Little things that can lead to great gratitude.


I prayed, "Dear Lord, thank you for the color of the leaves. Thank you that we have shoes on our feet. Thank you that our school is safe. Thank you that we have lunch to bring. Thank you for teachers who care deeply for students. Thank you waking us up, for giving us breath, for this one, simple day. In Jesus' name, Amen."


When I pulled out of the parking lot, I noticed the leaves more than the lightness of my wallet.


That's probably as it should be.


Blessings on your day.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Waiting for Superman and Noah's First Year

Noah was five, Benjamin was 4 and I was pregnant with Josiah. My due date was at the end of August and I was worried about missing my first-born's first day of school. The whole school decision had been so difficult for us and Mark and I had struggled to decide where to enroll our sweet, little boy.

Mark and I both went to public school. I enjoyed my school experience and think I was well prepared for college. Mark had a different public school experience... a difficult time based more on the environment than the academics. But overall, we felt the local public school was a good option for our family.

We wondered if there might there be a better option? We toured a Christian school with a great reputation located near our home. The tour happened in January, 8 months before the year would begin, and we loved what we saw. Thinking this might be a better fit for us, we applied for admission in January. And we were turned down. The school was full. In January. For the next August.

Thinking this was a fine solution to our wondering, we enrolled Noah in the local public school without ever setting foot inside. On the morning of the the Kindergarten drop-in day, I took my two little boys to visit what would become Noah's class. I was "great with child" and waddled into the school looking forward to meeting the woman who would quickly become one of the most important people in my son's life.

To say that what I found in that place was disappointing to me is stating it lightly. I was saddened, worried and unsure about what the year would hold. It was not just the teacher. It was the whole environment, the classrooms, the staff and administration I had met, the overall climate itself. I called Mark from the parking lot and told him we had made a terrible mistake. This school was not going to do what we had hoped. He tried to reassure me but the years I had spent teaching in my own classroom gave me a perspective that I might not have otherwise had. I knew what I wanted for my child. I knew what kind of environment would lead to great growth in his young life. I knew that I was giving them a curious, intelligent, sensitive little boy and I knew I wanted all of those qualities to be nurtured. I had a very bad feeling about what was to come.

Now please, before you hit comment and tell me about the wonderful public schools that exist in America, hear this... I know. I really do. This blog and my feelings on education in America is not based on public or private schools! I know a lot of amazing teachers that teach in all kinds of schools and I attended some excellent public schools myself. I am grateful to many folks who worked in those schools for coming alongside me and helping me to find my way. They contributed mightily to my young life. I also know many families who choose to home-school and do a great job of that, too. I believe there are many ways to be educated and many ways to do that well. And sadly, I believe there are many ways to do that poorly, also.

What happened in our family during Noah's kindergarten year is not about public or private school. You know what it is about? A bad educational experience. And it should NEVER have happened.

Within a month of starting, Noah stopped talking after school. For hours after getting off the bus, he was sullen and withdrawn. I was afraid for my boy. We became aware of situations at the school where teachers were essentially calling students names. There were teachers there, teachers he saw regularly, who, during that entire year, never learned his name. The office, where I went weekly to check in and volunteer in my son's class, never learned mine. There was no sense of community and very little, if any, warmth. At the end of the year, there was a situation that helped me to understand how students end up never learning to read. I was beside myself. This is not what I wanted for my son. Not at all. And yet, it IS what my tax dollars pay for.

As someone who has spent years teaching, I know how hard the job can be. I also know very well how important it is to care deeply for that work and to strive to be the best that you can be. I hate that many teachers do not feel supported by their administration and that thousands of schools do not feel they have the resources necessary to do a great job. Even more importantly, I feel for teachers who know that they do not have the support of their student's parents to partner with them to accomplish the enormous task of educating that child. And yes, I understand there are reasons for some of this. I know money is tight, teachers are overworked, parents are busy... I get it. But, while I try to explain away what has happened to American schools, I am exceedingly more aware that United States is falling farther and farther behind other developed countries in math and science. The amazing part is that we rank higher than most in confidence. Really? Our children are less educated than other countries and yet we feel really great about ourselves? This cannot be good.

This is a sensitive subject. I want to be careful. And yet, the fact that we all feel like we have to be so careful about this subject is part of the reason that nothing ever improves! I am tired of being afraid of what people will think. I am tired of being afraid of what the Teacher's Union might feel. I am tired of it all. Because tip-toeing around this subject does not lead to needed change. And change is needed. Again, this is not about public schools or private schools or Christian schools or home-schools. It is about educating our children! We need to stop stomping our feet and offering excuses and start looking around. Children know what we teach them. When they are under-educated and hate school, that is not their fault! It is ours! It is our fault as parents for not expecting more. It is our fault as educators for not setting a higher standard and then reaching for it. It is our fault as Americans for setting aside our dream of having well-educated children who have tremendous opportunities ahead of them and instead settling for the school up the street. And it is the fault of the school up the street... that school that gets your tax dollars whether they do a great job or fail miserably, the school that should feel a huge sense of accountability to the children they are privileged to teach... but sometimes focus more on what is needed by teachers instead.

There is a documentary coming out called Waiting for Superman. It addresses all of this and so much more. It is my prayer that millions of people will see it and then be moved... moved to act, moved to change, moved to stand up for education in America and demand better! I so want to see the educational system in this great country turned on its ear and changed to become what it needs to be to meet the needs of our children. I want to see children who cannot wait to go to school, who understand the value of education, who have parents who will come alongside them and fight for their need for the highest quality education available. And for all those amazing schools that are already working in the United States, I want to give them a hand. I want people to see them and know them and praise them and financially support them so they can keep on doing exactly what they are already doing so well. Waiting for Superman can help us to see what is happening around us. I am going to see that movie. Are you?

If there has ever been a hint of worry in you about the education your children will receive or are receiving, it is time to act on that emotion. It is time for us, as mommas to our deeply loved children, to show up at our schools... public, private and charter... and work with the teachers and administration to make it even better than it is. And yes, it is time for us to find the teachers who have relied on tenure to keep their jobs--not job performance-- and release them from this most important position to make room for teachers who deeply care about education and about children and about the future of the United States.

This is one of those blogs that makes it hard to hit "post". I don't know what you are thinking but I know this: I will not let my fear about posting on a sensitive subject overrule my desire for my children to have access to excellent education. It is not my desire to offend... it is my desire to be honest and to share a bit of our own experience. Look around you. We live in an amazing place. We know the value of education. Surely we can do better than this.

Blessings on your day.


Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Simple Woman's Daybook--September 7, 2010

If you blog, you can do this, too. C'mon, you can do it! Join in the fun!

Outside my window... the yard is totally taken care of... This weekend, we added mulch, weeded areas desperately in need, cleaned gutters, trimmed bushes... It all looks so nice.

I am thinking... about a talk I am giving on Friday. I have some work to do yet to get ready but am grateful for another opportunity to speak. I love, love, love this work...

I am thankful for... for a bit of quiet. I love having time in the day to catch my breath and prepare for the busy evening spent with my four children. Noah and Benjamin also have their first soccer game tonight and I am still just so grateful that Noah can play, even with the broken arm.

From the kitchen... Tonight, I am making soup in the crock pot. When we come home from soccer, it will be ready and waiting for us and the house will smell wonderful. :) I am planning on baking some fresh bread to go with it, too.

I am wearing... faded jeans and a long sleeve black t-shirt... Love that it is cool enough to wear long pants!

I am creating... My next talk for Friday... and a menu for the week. I just found a new recipe for homemade mac and cheese that includes a bit of bacon... comfort food! This is the week to try it out!

I am dreaming... about finding a few more speaking engagements for early fall and for spring. My late fall and winter dates (especially around the holidays) are very full! I am so excited about that and cannot wait to really get going. If you know someone looking for a speaker to talk about parenting topics, send them my way!

I am going...to get mums today for the front porch. This part of fall is so wonderful to me... though I am not a fan of the bare trees that are only about 6 weeks away!

I am reading...Radical, in an online group. Have you read it? I am excited about it. Still working on Crazy Love, too. Excited to process through both of these challenging books.

I am hoping... for a book contract. Holy cow, that feels awfully forward... but now that I have share my book with publishers, I am so excited about how this could go. Feels risky to hope... so I am preferring to think of it as trust.

I am hearing... the wind blowing through my backyard... The screen door is open and I can hear the leaves moving on the breeze. Love the peacefulness of it...

Around the house... We got a lot of cleaning done this weekend... still have laundry to do but am grateful that there is not a world of mess everywhere.

One of my favorite things... cooking for my family. I am eager to plan for them this week... to provide meals that are healthy and good. Even with the busyness we will be facing over the next several days, I love knowing we will have something warm and tasty to eat together each night.

A few plans for the rest of the week...lots of soccer, a bit of ballet, some writing, some speaking, some cooking... all good.

What about you? : )

Blessings on your day!

Looking for more like this?
http://thesimplewomansdaybook.blogspot.com/

Thursday, September 2, 2010

What We Found...


He had to come along. There was no where else for him to be. Noah and Benjamin had soccer practice, Elizabeth had ballet. Josiah? He would ride along and sit with me for the hour he sister spent dancing.

When I first realized he would have to join us at her class, I felt a little bad for him. After all, what's a boy to do at his sister's dance studio? After a summer of being allowed to occasionally be left home under Noah's care, Josiah has gotten used to having some choices.... used to be able to hang with the boys if an errand must be run. But yesterday, there were no big boys home. So off we went for dance class... Elizabeth, a vision in a pink leotard and tights; Josiah, caught in the middle of a scheduling blip and me.

We arrived on time and in she went. Josiah sat slumped on the floor with a book and a piece of paper. He would work a bit "on his book" during class, he said... but his eyes wandered to the window nearby.

"C'mon, buddy..." I started. "Let's go see what we find."

He gathered his things and ran quickly to me, questions pouring forth from his lips.

"But momma, where will we go? What will find? Are we looking for something? What if class ends and we are not back? What if..."

He tilted his head to listen... the sun glimmered off the blond in his hair.

"What's that sound?" he asked. "Momma, what's that?"

It was familiar to me from years gone by and I smiled and ruffled his hair.

"Let's go see, buddy. Let's see what we can find."

The dance studio is located near a large high school and the practice field sat between us and them. Loudly we heard, tick! tock! tick! tock! and I walked a step behind my son as he followed the sound.

We climbed through a rough field for a while and climbed a small hill to the practice above. There, we found it. And a new sound began... music... instruments.... a loud, micro-phoned metronome keeping time.

A marching band!

Josiah could not believe his luck! With his love of music, he had found himself in nearly a perfect spot. Standing in nature, sun on his face, music surrounding his small self... perfection.

He did not move a muscle... just watched and listened and wondered at it all. The whole while, I watched him. I saw how his smile rose and fell with the drama of the music being played. I noticed his fingers, gently keeping time as the metronome tick! tocked! on... And for me, so much of it fell away right then and I was left looking at my boy. My boy who is growing up. My boy who has become taller and leaner and older and wiser. My boy who is old enough to stand still and listen and young enough to still feel the joy. And the field didn't matter then or the worry about time because for those simple minutes, it was just Josiah and I, together.

The music faded then and I looked to see the students gathering in groups. Practice was over.

"Wow." he whispered. "I guess this is what we found."

He smiled at me and I smiled back and I took his hand in mine. As we walked back, he chatted on and I remembered wondering what we would do. As I listened to my son talk about school and friends, it struck me. I need to spend less time planning what we will do... and allow for some time to be.

Yesterday, is stored up for me, not because of an outing or elaborate event. No, it is stored up in pictures... the September sun on Josiah's face, his smile beaming up at me, his once-combed-hair floating on the breeze... my son, age 8.

Blessings on your day.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Not About the Bees...


After a particularly dicey morning, I dropped the kids off at school and headed home. As I drove I was listening to a news report about a problem with bees in the United States. (I bet this is not what you expected to read on my blog today!)

As I listened, I learned that there is currently a growing concern over Colony Collapse Disorder which occurs when a bee hive appears healthy but suddenly, the worker bees do not return to the hive. In order to reach a diagnosis of Colony Collapse Disorder, there needs to be "capped brood" present (baby bees in little hive cells, still growing), a living queen bee and declining numbers of worker bees. (Hang with me here...)

There was a bee expert being interviewed about how he is dealing with CCD and the increasing numbers of dead bees. The belief is that the missing worker bees die outside the hive somewhere, which is why they do not return. The death rate is extraordinarily high and given the fact that their life span is only 1-4 months, this is a concern. The worry goes far beyond human honey consumption. Since bees pollinate crops, their absence greatly effects much of what we eat.

Then the expert said something that really caught my interest. He began to explain that they don't know why the bees are dying and that they are not even trying to figure that out. Instead, they are trying to extend their lives. He went on to talk about how they have been adding a protein supplement "glop" onto hives which causes the bees to worry about why something is messing up their workspace. They eat the "glop" in an effort to clean it up and then live 20% longer.

At this point, my mind is racing. Here are some of the questions that I began to mull over:

1. Do bees eat protein normally??

2. Is introducing a different food source helpful in the long run or the short run?

3. If they bees now have to clean their hive, aren't they doing less "bee work" anyway?

4. Is a 20% increase worth this approach? (I think we are talking about between 6-24 extra days in the life of a bee.)

5. And why, WHY, would you look for a solution before understanding the problem?

It is question #5 that perplexed me most. The problem is that bees are dying. The logical question is why. But this is not being asked and a solution is being concocted without an answer in place. Without really understanding, it seems to me, that the solution could actually become part of the problem. Without asking questions about the reality, how can you really effect the outcome? The problem is not bee life span. The problem is bee death. And, what if this protein "glop" actually creates other problems? What if it distracts the bees from bee work? What if it calls bears to the hives with its protein scent? What if it hurts the bees long term? I am no bee expert and I am probably missing some of the story. But, it seems to me the answer does not fit the question that bee experts need to ask.

As the story ended, I found myself wondering how often I do the exact same thing. How often do I look for a fast fix before trying to understand what is really happening before me. What effect does this have on our family life? Do I intervene in ways that effect change where change is needed, or where it is easy?
This morning was a little crazy here. The beginning of the school year can be that way. My kids are squirrely, our routine is still settling and we are all a bit low on sleep. One of my boys is fighting me, day and night, on everything from chores to clothes and I am feeling weary. This morning, I lost my patience, raised my voice and struggled with deep frustration. Doling out discipline in the face of disobedience can be an easy fix. For the sake of a 20% increase in the peacefulness of our morning, I chose an action and moved forward... without ever asking WHY. Why is my boy so frustrated? Why is his wick so short? What does he really need? The answer to our problem lies in the asking of these questions, not in the knee jerk reaction of power over position.

Looking around my hive today, I am reminded that the work that we do is not short term. As mommas to our babies, the questions we ask ourselves about the little ones at our knees matter far more than the behavior we are seeing today. Behavior begins somewhere. It has a purpose. A frustrated child acts out. An attention-needing child gets loud. A sad child might be mad. A stressed child causes stress. A confused child seeks (or creates) order. A needy child seeks structure. And all of this, all of this, can be impacted by our contact with them. Processing can release frustration. Time can offer attention. An embrace can release sadness. Assistance can eliminate stress. Clarification can clear confusion. Lap-time fills neediness. We have what it takes... if we are not distracted by the short term... if we do not offer up the "glop".

Our lives at home can be hectic. So it is in my home, too. And we will not always respond the way we wish that we would. But this morning, I was reminded that my work is worth more than the keeping of bees. I was reminded of the futility of offering what is not needed without ever asking the deeper questions of my kids. When I ask, when I think, when I wonder, when I reach out, what I will find is the place where my babies and I connect. What I will discover in that place is a sacred spot that I was always intended to fill. Yes, sometimes I will miss it. Sometimes, my short fuse will stand in my way. But sometimes, I will see it and act and be love incarnate in the life of my child.

Even in the midst of busy days and nights, let's be mindful of our need to slow down. Let's look around our hives today and take a deep breath and ask the hard questions and offer what is needed in place of what is easy. I know how tired we get. But there is energy to be found in the loving of our kids, in listening to them laugh and in knowing them well... good days and bad.

Blessings on your day.
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