Our legacy

I realized mid-May that I was doing a lot of writing about my kids and their “stuff.”  I attribute it to the end of the school year:  I’m thinking more about them because I realize I’m about to spend almost three full months with them, 24/7, and I’m trying to get to a point where I’m anticipating that, instead of dreading it.  (I’m finally there–just in time.  As I write this, my daughter is done and my son’s last day is tomorrow.)

I want to stop a minute, though, and really think about my kids–all our kids, I guess.  I wonder what they’re learning from us, as they grow up in this country where we’re so blessed and where we take so much for granted.  I wonder what I’m teaching them, as I raise them in this home; in this city and this county of copious conspicuous consumption.  I wonder what kind of an example I’m setting in my daily life, through the choices I make; both big and small.  I wonder what kind of a legacy I’m leaving my little ones (who aren’t really so little anymore).

Am I signaling a constant desire for more?  Am I showing that we never quite have enough?  Are my kids learning that if you don’t like something, pitch it, because you can always buy another?  Am I raising a generation dependent on “disposable” junk?  What would my kids say I value most, people or “stuff”?

I still remember one afternoon when the kids were running around the house in big circles:  hall, living room, kitchen, dining room, repeat.  Over and over, until one of them somehow knocked out a shelf in the bookcase in the dining room.  It’s a low bookcase, with four shelves displaying my collection of white pitchers.  Down the shelf went, along with the pitchers, along with my daughter.  She lay on the floor, howling dramatically, and I ran to check on her, and when I surveyed the scene I had a fleeting, laughing thought:  okay, now is the time to make a good choice, or she will forever remember this moment as the time I checked to see if any of my “stuff” was broken before I found out if she was hurt.  Do I want my kids to remember me as someone who thought “stuff” was more important than people?  That moment I chose wisely.  🙂

But not too long ago, I have to admit, I heard my dog gagging on my “brand new” rug, and I freaked out so badly trying to get him outside that my son called down from upstairs asking what was the matter.  (The rug owns me, that’s what’s the matter.)  That moment I chose….poorly.  I truly hope that my good choices outweigh the bad.  I hope that my kids realize that “stuff” is just “stuff,” nothing more, and that there are things much more important in life.

What do I want to strive for?  What do I want them to learn from me?   What legacy do I want to be leaving them?

“Freely you have received, freely give.”  (Matthew 10:8)

“Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.  Share with God’s people who are in need.”  (Romans 12:12-13)

“Godliness with contentment is great gain.  For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it….pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness.”  (I Timothy 6:6-7; 11)

“Be joyful always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” (I Thessalonians 5:16-18)

I know I don’t always hit the mark.  But if I can encourage them even a little towards any of these things, if this can be the example I set for my children (and for their friends), then I will have created the legacy I want to leave behind.  If I can continue to hold all these things on this earth with open hands, ready to give and share with others, I have lived as an example that I would be proud of my children to follow.

Hidden Clutter

My daughter’s room looks pristine.  If you stand in her doorway and survey the scene, you see a clean floor, appropriately “decorated” dressers and tables, and a made bed.  (No joke!  The six-year-old is a near-faithful bed-maker.)  I’ve complimented her numerous times on how clean her room is, especially compared to how she kept her previous room; which, at nearly half the size of her current room, was admittedly much harder to keep clean.

And then I helped her look for her shoes one morning.

It was yet another Sunday morning “I can’t find my….” moment, and since we had plenty of time before we had to leave for church, I was pretty mellow about the “I can’t find my pretty shoes” comment.  She looked in various places, and then I headed upstairs to help look, too.  I checked her closet….not there.  I checked in the corner, next to her chest of drawers…not there.  I checked under her bed…HOLY WOW!!

If they were there, she would never find them amidst all that stuff.  (If she went in looking for them, we might never find her, either.)

That roused my curiosity, so I started opening drawers.  It became quickly apparent that her clean room was a beautiful facade for overwhelming amounts of stuff stashed in all her drawers (and under the aforementioned bed).

Honestly, I’m not worried about it.  She’s a pro at going through things with me, and perfectly willing to get rid of stuff that she doesn’t use or love.  It fascinated me, though, how quietly things creep in.  You would never in a million years guess what was lurking in her room just by looking in her doorway.  I wonder how long it would have taken for the disaster to become obvious, to begin its crawl outside of its containment.  I’m glad I discovered it when I did, before it truly got out of hand.

And now that I think about it….do I have any cabinets that would embarrass me if someone opened them?  Do I have a drawer that is a few items short of disaster?  Is there a closet behind closed doors that’s waiting to pounce?  (I’m proud to announce that my laundry room closet has remained clean since April 13th, thanks to a note I put on a shelf:  “Cleaned April 13th.  Do you REALLY want to clean it again?”)

A big thank-you to my daughter for forcing me to think about the difficult stuff…..

Simplicity vs. Responsibility

I recall a conversation I had with another mom during a sweltering swimming lesson one miserable summer day.  We were discussing our children’s jobs around the house, the things they did to help out, and I commented that the habit we were working on that summer was loading the dishwasher.  Each meal, each snack, the kids were responsible for taking care of their own dishes—which meant I had better be on top of emptying the dishwasher.

“Why can’t they do it?” she asked.

“They could, but most of it is too high up for them to reach.  It would involve climbing on a chair to put things away, so I take care of that part for them, right now.  That’ll be a new habit for another summer,” I joked.

“Don’t they have their own plates?” she asked, looking genuinely confused.

“Well….we have a drawer with their cups,” I admitted.  “But other than that, we all use the same stuff.”

“Oh, gosh, you need to get them their own stuff, plastic stuff that doesn’t break, so they can learn to take care of it.  Then it really is their responsibility to load and unload their dishes and their cups.”

I really chewed on that one for a while.  I absolutely saw her point of teaching responsibility, of kids caring for their own things.  But at what expense?  An entire extra set of plates and cups?  Was I willing to sacrifice simplicity, and accept a potentially huge amount of clutter, to teach that lesson right now?  Would the gain, the lesson learned, be worth it?

I finally decided the answer was no.  Extra plates?  Bowls?  Cups?  Where on earth would we put it all?  As the kids grow up, as they get taller and more able to reach the upper cabinets, we can move on to dishwasher emptying.  Right now, we can focus on loading:  loading only one set of dishes.

“Everyone has one but me”

Intentionally having less is not always easy, especially on the kids involved in this process.  I was reminded of this each time my son’s class earned an “electronics day” as a reward at school.   They could bring in their handheld games to play for a set amount of time…..but he didn’t have any.  Fortunately, he’s always had very understanding teachers who would set up a computer game or let him hang out with a friend who did have one of the devices.  (Because watching over someone else’s shoulder is a lot of fun, right?)  This was one instance, though, where when he came home saying “Everyone has one but me,” I absolutely believed him.

What to do with that information, though?  I wasn’t going to run right out and buy him a Nintendo DS “because everyone else has one”—what on earth kind of message would that be sending him?  He hadn’t cared enough to ask for one for a birthday or Christmas until this past year.  We held out for quite a while to see if that desire held steady, and when it did, he finally (he would probably repeat, FINALLY!) got a DSi for his 8th birthday.

I’ve been pleased at how it hasn’t taken over his life.  He’s never been my TV kid, so I guess I shouldn’t have worried.  It lives downstairs, so there’s no possibility of him staying up with it into the dark hours of the night (that’s what books are for).  He plays with it some, and puts it away, and moves on to other things.  The biggest difference has probably been that “electronics days” are no longer dreaded events in this house.

I know that this is only the beginning.  I know, looming in our future, we’ll be hearing about video games and cell phones and tablets….the list goes on and on.  As a mom, I hate when my child is the one “without,” just as much as he hates being the one to stick out and be different.  But if you asked me what our priorities are, knowing that how we spend our money reflects our priorities, these things really don’t make the list.

“Put that away!”

How many times a day do we say that to our kids?  Put that away…clean that up…pick up your room….

But what if they don’t know where to put it?  What if they know where to put it, but they can’t fit it in because there’s too much other stuff?  What if an item just doesn’t have a home–especially new items, birthday gifts and such?  If we require them to do their part in keeping a clean house, we need to be setting an example in love and helping them be able to keep a clean house.

We’re so inundated with stuff that I think the first step is to pare down.  (See my previous “sock post” for a good example of what happens when you don’t!)  Go through the game cabinet or shelf with your kids; find out their favorites that should stay there, their not-so-favorites that maybe could go in a more out-of-the-way spot, and the ones they don’t care about that can just go.  (Maybe they’ll have so many they don’t care about that you could keep all the games in one cabinet–that would be my goal.)  We weed through our books on a regualar basis; I spread them out all over the floor and have the kids pick out their favorites, the ones they absolutely want to keep.  Pick your five favorites….pick three more you’d like….pick three more you think you want to keep.  We work through until we have a stash they are willing to give away.  (It helps that we take them to a used book store, so the more they give away, the more cash they’re getting in return.)  I’ve been known to spread out all my sons Hot Wheels in a giant parking lot before asking him to pass some on; I think seeing the sheer amount of cars, all lined up, helps emphasize to him that wow, there really are a lot of cars there.

I also think it’s important to go alongside your kids for awhile; show them what you mean by “pick up” and “put away.”  Set an example in what you do, and help them (for a time) in what they do.  It takes some time now, but eventually they’ll get it.  [An aside:  As I type this, my daughter just informed her friend, “Wait!  I’m not done putting this game away yet!”  Clearly they can be taught. 🙂 ]

Finally, and I think most important, is that everything needs to have a home.  No one can put something “away” if it doesn’t have a place to be put away.  This can be as simple as “my favorite teddy bear and blanket live on my bed,” or it can be shelves and tubs arranged to hold all their goods.  We have a shelf for kids’ books in our living room, but each child also has a bookshelf in their room; there’s really no excuse for books to not be put away in this house.  If every item has a place where it belongs, it’s so much easier for everyone in the house; not just the kids.

Keep in mind:  “Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it.”  (Proverbs 22:6)

HOW many?

My son was getting ready for church, and couldn’t find any white socks.  As he finished his breakfast, I had a running commentary in the back of my head; something along the lines of, What do you mean you don’t have any white socks?  I just washed a load of whites after our trip.  I remember washing all your white socks.  How can you possibly not have any white socks?   Thankfully, I kept it to myself.  (Well, I might have said it out loud a little bit.)

Finally, I asked him to go check the basement.  They are constantly playing “gymnastics” down there, and invariably socks get removed, never to return upstairs.  I thought a basement search might turn up a missing pair.

The minute I said the word “basement,” his eyes got big.  “Oh, yeah,” he said, and then, with a slight British accent (please don’t ask why), “I forgot about Blanket’s sock machine!!”

He returned from downstairs with fourteen pairs of socks spilling out of his arms.  Not fourteen socks, mind you, but FOURTEEN PAIRS!!

Twenty-eight socks, now sitting on top of my washing machine, challenging me to see how even the mundane “stuff” in our lives so quickly multiplies and becomes overwhelming.  It’s sneaky….one day you have a perfectly reasonable amount of (fill in the blank), and then one day you look up, and you have twenty-eight of them–or another ridiculous number.  It seems to happen so slowly, so gradually, until that moment when it hits you:  How on earth did I end up with so many socks/magazines/food storage containers/insert your item of choice here?

In this case, not all were his; the bounty was fairly evenly divided between him and his sister.  But even seven pairs of socks seemed excessive when I realized that my daughter’s sock drawer was already full.  (Apparently girls have cuter socks that are much more difficult to let go of.)  🙂

That’s my new challenge to myself:  to look around and do a “number check.”  How many of (this) do I really need?  How many do I really use?  Would my excess be better off blessing someone else?  Is it time to pass this on?

Maybe I’ll start with our books…. (Ack!)