"You can make anything by writing."

-- C. S. Lewis


Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Too Tired to Think of a Title

This “parenting a teenager” thing is serious business, isn’t it? I’ve sat here for several minutes trying to process exactly what it is that I want to say, but I’m coming up empty. This, after months of longing to write it all out but never finding the time, experiencing fleeting moments of clarity and a string of words that articulate perfectly what I’m thinking (but always at work or while I’m driving and never at a time when it’s actually convenient to write). The feelings, emotions, epiphanies, and visions that I experience regarding this single child are deep and plentiful, layered and wide. I could fill a novel – but stream-of-consciousness style, with no particular plot, no apparent climax or finale. I would call it “My Experiences in Parenting Are All Over the Place and Change Daily" or "I Don't Know What I'm Doing.”

Part of it is that we don’t really know who we’re parenting exactly. I mean, she’s still trying to figure that out herself. She’s coming alive -- she’s quirky and light and lively and melodramatic and headstrong and spacey and opinionated. There’s no better example of this than when we’re shopping together. There was a holiday dance at the school last Friday (adorably called “The Snow Ball”), and choosing a semi-formal outfit proved to be a real adventure, mostly because she doesn’t have a clear understanding of what “semi-formal” means. But maybe I don’t either. I lugged an armful of knee-length dresses into the dressing room at Target, and she said, “Paisley patterns are you, Mom; not me,” and I flashed back to my own middle school years when I, too, was resistant to my mom’s suggestions, yet so desperate to fit in with my friends, afraid to launch out and set my own fashion trends based on what I thought was pretty. Apparently it was paisley.

“Keep an open mind,” I said. “You keep an open mind, too,” she shot right back at me, teenager-style. Eventually we settled on black – plain and simple – because I’d read that every girl needs a “little black dress” that she can dress up or down depending on the situation. She likes it but claims it’s too formal. It’s not, of course. Because it’s from Target. ;-)

It seems like everything is an argument these days. I could say the kettle is black, but she would say it’s a triangle. And looking back, she’s kind of always been this way, I suppose. It’s exhausting. So many simple conversations spiral out of control over semantics or details or tone of voice. How many times do we hear, “I know!” or “I am!,” to which we end up channeling our early 1990s parents, with, “Well, you don’t know or else you’d stop doing it!”

There are other moments, though. Like when Ryan was scrolling through the channels and came across “Fiddler on the Roof” (which, of course, we own and have watched three dozen times). “Ryley!” he called. She came bounding down the stairs two-, three-, four-at-a-time and plopped down on the sofa, a stupid grin plastered to her face. Then, for the next three days, she belted out the songs and even dug out my “Fiddler” soundtrack CD for
accompaniment.

For being one person, she is certainly the source of a lot of noise! Ryley can’t empty the dishwasher without blasting Panic! At the Disco from her iTunes, or Twenty-one Pilots or Michael Buble from Pandora or Spotify. She’s performing as Gertrude McFuzz in our school’s spring production of "Seussical," in which she has four (!!!) solos, so we hear a lot of that around the house, too. 


Then, in November, she learned that she was selected for Colorado All-state Middle School Choir, which is a huge accomplishment! So now we have five more pieces to rehearse and memorize before the first weekend in February. We are so proud of our girl….I am so glad she loves music and has finally found her “thing” – her long-pursued talent. I could listen to her sweet, strong alto singing all day long.

But back in September, she had toyed with not auditioning for these things….just helping with stage crew for the musical and not worrying about the difficult audition for all-state choir. How different would our school year (and her life experience) have been if she had just fizzled out on these opportunities before they even began?

School is difficult. Just this last weekend, she had three big projects due on Monday alone, with another project and two presentations due yesterday, three big final exams happening today, and another essay due tomorrow (for which she's forgotten her notes at school). I get overwhelmed just looking at her homework assignments, grateful that it’s her and not me. I think I still suffer a little bit of post-traumatic stress disorder after the marathon that was “getting through college.” I’ve already paid my dues, right? It’s her turn.

Not exactly. I truly believe that behind every well-put-together child is a parent pulling the strings, providing the choir outfits and participation fees and homework support.

Sometimes, late at night, when I’m quietly doing dishes at the sink while she writes an essay at the kitchen table, I think to myself, “Across our suburb, across the country, other moms are also staying up tonight helping their kiddo with a creative writing portfolio or Googling the ‘equation for y intercept.’ Or saying, 'You know what? Close the math book, and go to bed. It will be okay.'”

Because having a child at an academically-demanding school feels like having a second job. Back in October, I came to the realization that though we needed more money and needed me to take on more freelance work, my family needed me more – my presence and my help. In Proverbs 31, the “the wife of noble character” is praised for selecting wool and flax and working with eager hands, making and selling linen garments, securing trade deals and buying fields and planting vineyards, all while the lamp burns late into the night. But my big epiphany has been that sometimes in this modern society, spinning wool or planting a vineyard also means learning 8th grade physics at 11 p.m. or just being in the same room as your baby fills out her history study guide until midnight, just so she’s not alone. You’re so tired, but you fight sleep, knowing that you're doing what’s best. Sometimes it means running down to the thrift store in the middle of the Broncos game on a Monday evening to buy a $1 cane for your husband and his injured back. Sometimes being that quintessential “Proverbs 31 woman” means knowing how to invest your time in creative ways, understanding when to snap the laptop shut, and canceling potential freelance projects, trusting that God will provide for all your needs.

In the midst of volleyball and play practice, choir auditions and D.C. trip fundraising, podiatrist appointments and contact fittings, car repairs and Ryan’s ruptured disc (resulting MRI and physical therapy), his unrelated car accident and losing his car to the body shop for more than a month….in the midst of all that and more, my family needs me more than we need the money. They need all of me – not the muddled, distracted version of me. They need the stability only I can bring. After all, that’s why God put me here, planting my own little vineyard called the Moore family.

Most nights over the last few years, I've defaulted to my freelance work on my laptop on the downstairs sofa while Ryan has graded papers at the desk across the room. Meanwhile, Ryley is left to her own devices with her heavy backpack dumped out and spread out across the floor in our living room upstairs – within ear shot of us, but away from the distraction of the television we have on in the background.

But last weekend, on a whim, Ryley took the love languages quiz, and we discovered that she gives and receives love in “quality time.” I’d never thought of her that way before. I mean, that’s my love language, too, but it had never occurred to me that some of the forlornness she feels and the hours it takes to get her homework done is because she has been “banished” from us. She feels lonely and thus loses momentum and motivation.

That insight inspired me to try something new during the Crazy Weekend of Multiple Projects. I pledged to be her right-hand person. I stayed with her in the front room and just remained "available." I tried not to push my own agenda; I let her tell me what she needed my help with. And you know what? She got her work done in a timely manner, and she was less combative about it. Wonder of wonders, miracle of miracles! It was a relatively peaceful weekend, all things considered, and we didn't even have to burn the midnight oil. Normal bedtimes were kept. Now, is it always practical or even in her best interest for me to be present during every homework marathon? No, of course not. But sometimes she just needs somebody to be there, supporting her.

And sometimes she just needs help prioritizing… “Hey, sweetie, so you have an A+ in Algebra, so maybe since it’s already 9:30, we skip these last two difficult problems and move on to English, which could use a little more attention.”

“Wait. Are you telling me not to finish my math homework?”

“No, not exactly. I’m telling you to use your time wisely.” :-) Who knew I'd ever advocate for not finishing homework? Crazy how people change. ;-)

At the very base level, we are always on her side. Whether being on her side means disciplining her or defending her, her dad and I will always be in her corner. She’s a special kiddo. She’s ours. Definitely not perfect and many times a little mouthy, but overall, she is a really good kid. We might get on her case, and she might perceive it as coming down hard on her, but we always have her best interest at heart. She doesn’t see that or have the capability of understanding that right now. But I trust that someday she will. I'm sure my parents thought the same about me at one point!

Maybe we’re on to something with this whole love language revelation, though. I’ve been asking God for wisdom, and maybe understanding this aspect of her personality is the key. She just likes to be with us.

“Someday when I’m grown, I think sometimes I’ll just drive over here for a hug and a long talk,” she told me one time. My drive would be about 850 miles, but that’s how I feel about my mom and dad, too. :-) A hug and a long talk do wonders.


So that's the gist of it -- my thoughts on parenting after 13 years and 4 months. We don't have it all figured out, by any means, and just when we think we have, we fall flat on our faces, Ryan and I. We offer each other regular high-fives though, whenever one of us does a particularly good job. We need that kind of encouragement and comradery. :-)

Christmas break starts tomorrow afternoon, and I'm not sure we've ever needed it more. I probably say that every year, though. :-) Here's to Hallmark movies and cozy fireplaces and toasty mugs of hot chocolate -- passing around the coffee and pumpkin pie -- and doing absolutely nothing. 

The vineyard planting and cloth-spinning can continue in January. ;-) 


Monday, August 8, 2016

Caving

I always reserve the right to change my mind.

That may not be the best policy, parenting-wise, but for the most part, I try to remain honestly open-minded. ;-) What's best for one person may not be best for another; what's best at one time may not be the best choice later on.

When Ryley was begging for social media a few months ago, our answer was a firm no. There was just too much she could be exposed to, we reasoned. She didn't need any more negative influences in her life. I even wrote a lengthy blog post about this.

But as her 13th birthday drew nearer, I began to soften my stance. I think I began to understand that social media is ultimately inevitable. It's not going anywhere for the foreseeable future. In fact, even if our current forms of social media do phase out over time, there will always be something trying to pollute her mind. The world is changing rapidly, and as much as I want to hold on to her innocent childhood and the wholesome way we've tried to raise her, I had to come to terms with the fact that she will live in this world forever, and it's time to start teaching her how to keep her light -- how to counteract the darkness when those influences seems overwhelming.

So we allowed it. And in the last two weeks, we've had to address a LOT of stuff -- things as simple as what kind of posts are appropriate to find amusing (silently) but shouldn't be "liked" or "shared." We've talked about not allowing one's name to become associated with anything dark or inappropriate. This has meant adding restrictions so she can control what her friends post to her timeline and watching what posts she's been tagged in. It requires work on our part, and we don't catch everything. But this new realm has opened up a ton of conversations that we hadn't had previously, and they're presenting opportunities for maturity and growth. Someday she'll successfully navigate the world with grace and without compromise, and that all starts right now. With our guidance. ;-)

********************************************************

I have to say that being Ryley's mother has truly changed my life. Of course, there are the obvious ways that being a parent changes anybody. But Ryley has truly changed me with her deep, contagious compassion.

It all started seven years ago when our tiny kindergartener prayed every night that God would give her a puppy. I hated dogs -- hated animals being indoors at all. I could not even fathom having an animal run loose in our home. But my heart softened over time, and I finally agreed to let Ryley have a puppy. When I look back on it in retrospect, I truly see how God performed a miracle on my heart. I could not have changed on my own.


Our sweet Juliet has become such a precious part of our family, with a personality that reflects Ryley's spunk and playfulness. They are the best of friends, and I have become much more tolerant of her running loose in the house (with well-placed baby gates!). ;-)






Fast-forward about five years, and Ryley suddenly developed an affinity for pet bunnies. 

"Ha!" was my initial response. "Absolutely not." Like, seriously. I was pretty set that we would never have a bunny. 

But gradually I have seen Ryley's undying compassion....the way she stops by the pet store to drool over the animals every time she and her friends go to the mall...the way she raved about her teacher's pet bunny all last year...the way she came home from the summer camp at the animal shelter in such a good mood after cuddling with bunnies, puppies, and kitties all day. 

"Who could really be in a bad mood after cuddling with baby animals all day?" Ryan reasoned. And I saw his point.

I started to realize that a pet bunny may not be the worst thing in the world. A hassle? Yes. Messy? Yep. My favorite thing? No. But would I trade my daughter's sweet, caring heart for anything in the world? Absolutely not.

So off she and her daddy went to the animal shelter, with the intention of spending her birthday money on rescuing a rabbit. But after spending more than an hour with a certain rabbit up for adoption, she just wasn't feeling it. We knew it had to be the right one, and I encouraged her to pray to be matched with the right fit.

A week later, Ryley and Ryan brought home the sweetest mini-lop bunny we've ever seen! She is a DREAM, as pet bunnies go. She is 7 years old (the same age as Juliet!), has been raised in a home with children and dogs, is pretty friendly and tame, and has been primarily handled by a 13-year-old. The only reason the family gave her up was because of an allergy one of the children had. I feel like the fact that she is litter-trained alone is God's personal gift to me for understanding my little girl's heart and allowing her this precious animal. :-)





Much to my surprise, I have been genuinely excited about the addition of Addie to our family! And I would much rather have Ryley spend her birthday money on a sweet little pet bunny than waste it all on emo merchandise at Hot Topic. :-) She has so much love to give. Either we could let her lavish that love on a bunny, or we could watch her try to aimlessly funnel the abundant love in her heart down other less-lucrative avenues.

And that's how our family got a bunny.

That's how I changed my mind.

That's how my daughter changed me.

And that's what it feels like to cave. ;-)

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Livin' the Dream

Tomorrow is the last day of school, and with it, Ryan's first year as a teacher comes to a close. There aren't words to express how proud I am of him....how proud I know his mom and dad would be had they lived to see it. Because for Ryan, teaching isn't just a job. It's a lifelong dream, a career, a calling -- something he was born to do. Something he had long given up on.

Because, when you've found a way to provide for your family, and all your time, effort, and energy are spent on keeping that thing afloat, how do you ever find the time and effort and energy to find a way out? Hours roll into days, and days roll into weeks, and weeks into months and years, and suddenly you're 37, and you've spent nearly two decades in survival mode, unhappy in your profession, just trying to pay the bills. Why would anybody take a chance on you?

But they did.

On his application, the question was asked: "Are there any skills/abilities or other information you would like to mention?"

Ryan answered: "While my work history is unusual, I have a lot of experience dealing with high school students as employees. I would love to use my degree to educate them."

There's so much wryness in that response. Or should I say Ryness? Either way, I wouldn't expect anything less from him.

We've learned a lot in Ryan's first year. For instance, did you know that the kids in this generation don't use the word "sir"? They say, "mister." "Mister, can I go to the bathroom?" Just an observation. :-) Ryan says it bothers me way more than it bothers him!!

For the first time in our 17.5 years of marriage, Ryan has been home every night and every weekend, for nine months straight. That is huge for us. It has been amazing in every way. Our quality of home life has improved by leaps and bounds. We don't know what to do with all our time together!

For the first time since he's had a cell phone, Ryan doesn't dread texts or phone calls. The very sound of his text notifications used to make him feel sick to his stomach with impending doom. Did the auditor show up? Did the health inspector show up? Did somebody call in sick? Whatever it was, it was his responsibility to take care of it, no matter the time of day or if it happened to be his scheduled day off. So the sound of a text equaled negativity.

In fact, it took him about a month into the school year before he didn't feel stressed when another teacher called in sick. They didn't have many subs at first, so teachers were asked to cover absent teachers' classes during their planning periods. Ryan's managerial experience sent him into responsibility mode, and he'd be trying to figure out how to shift things around to fill the gaps when he finally realized his job was to teach. The Administration's job was to coordinate the coverage. A load was lifted. He could certainly step in and help where he could, but it ultimately wasn't his responsibility.

The most incredible thing I've witnessed this year is Ryan's revived love for reading and discussing philosophy. When I fell in love with him, we were "deep-thinking" college students who loved to let our random thoughts work their way into a semblance of meaning. Our first date was spent discussing a book, and having been friends for quite awhile, I had already fallen hard for the unique way his mind worked. But in the face of jobs, bills, and a child to raise, the 18-year-old version of ourselves faded. It was still there, but it was buried by our 20s and then our 30s, by life itself. And watching the Ryan I first loved come back to life has been my greatest privilege as his wife. He read more than he has in years. He studied methods and came up with projects and assignments and lessons. He led his students into Socratic discussions about Greek and Roman literature, about pride, about belief, and about the meaning of our existence. He challenged his students to read and to think.

"My worst day teaching is 10 times better than my best day in restaurant management," he said.

I don't think he expected to love his students as much as he does. He genuinely cares for their well-being, is concerned for their future, and will miss them as they move on to 10th grade, other schools, etc. And I'm pretty sure they love him back. :-)







It is pretty bright....and shiny! And he's so handsome. :-)







This is a tribute to his parents that Ryley and I made for him at the beginning of the year. His mom taught math and was the Indiana State Teacher of the Year in the '70s. His dad taught science for years and made the newspaper when he opened a planetarium in the high school. He has a great legacy!



When Ryley was in kindergarten, she was tickled pink that her school uniform was the same as her daddy's work uniform for Panera. "He makes bread for all the peoples," she used to say. Little did she know that someday she would become a "TK," when her daddy was given the opportunity of a lifetime -- to live his dream.



Congratulations, Ryan, on an incredible first year. I am so happy for all that you have accomplished and learned and become. I am thankful to God for opening up the opportunity for you, and I am thankful to the administration for taking a chance on your "unusual work history"! And I am so, so glad those lucky highschoolers got the opportunity to be educated, taught, challenged, led, and impacted by you.

xoxoxo

******Addendum as of 5/29/16******

I wrote this post about Ryan in all gratefulness for God's goodness in opening up the perfect opportunity to become a teacher. But even as I wrote it, it turns out I didn't know the full story. We've learned some new information in recent days, and I want to make sure I share this extra piece as the full story of what God has done!

Two days ago, Ryan ran into the woman who replaced him as general manager of his restaurant when he resigned. He hadn't talked to her in eight or nine months. As it turns out, she no longer works for the company. And as he pressed further, he learned that she quit in February when things became too stressful and intense after their boss was fired, and their boss's boss was fired. We're not sure what went down exactly (both of them seemed like upstanding people, and Ryan's direct boss at that company was specifically very fair and integrous). But there was suddenly a ton of upheaval and change and stress, and as a result, many of the managers at other locations either quit or were fired.

While we have no reason to believe Ryan would have been fired had he stayed, we also know that those situations are extremely stressful, and he would certainly be working even longer hours and desperately trying to find a way out, if he even still had a job at all.

As Ryan recounted his conversation to me that evening, I started feeling that familiar heaviness I used to feel when he would come home from work weighed down with unhappiness, fear, frustration, you name it.

"Wow, even as you're telling me this, I am having flashbacks to what it was like....to that heaviness..."

"Yes!" he answered. "I started getting stressed out just talking to her about the whole situation!"

We are completely awed. Not only did God piece together a series of situations and miracles to open up a place for Ryan in education, and not only have we been enjoying our new quality of life and been living with the benefits of him feeling like he's actually making a difference in his career, but unbeknownst to us, God also reached down and lifted him out of a situation of impending doom. He saved him from it. He knew something bad was coming, and we didn't, so he divinely stepped in and just removed Ryan from the situation, with five months to spare.

Here we've been praising God for this amazing first year as a teacher, and we didn't even know the full story. But God did! Now we're praising Him for delivering Ryan from that former position too.

"And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose." -- Romans 8:28

"You will not fear the terror of night, nor the arrow that flies by day, nor the pestilence that stalks in the darkness, nor the plague that destroys at midday.
A thousand may fall at your side, ten thousand at your right hand, but it will not come near you." -- from Psalm 91

:-)

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Operation Scripture Memory

I'm not a super crafty person, but every now and then I get inspired. :-)

Ryley knows a lot of Bible stories, but honestly, we haven't done a really good job with scripture memorization. Early on, we were pretty consistent with it, and over the years we've been sporadic at best, choosing a handful of verses that we've worked on from time to time.

But the fact of the matter is, that to live successfully, peacefully, and powerfully for Jesus in this world, the Word of God needs to be hidden in her heart. How can we expect her to walk through life if she doesn't have a "lamp for her feet" and "light for her path"? Life-giving scriptures need be etched on her soul...buried so deep in the well of her personhood that when she needs them they bubble up to her mind as living water, accomplishing whatever she needs.

Enter my inspiration! I'm not even really sure how this all came together, but basically I took my cousins' idea of hanging photos on a "clothesline" at a high school graduation reception last weekend and combined it with scripture memes I found online. And I decided that since it's a central place that not a lot of other people see, our bathroom would be the perfect place to hang them. I mean, if we're going to spend so much time in there, we could be meditating on good things, right? Just being real, folks! :-)








Did I overdo it? Probably. :-) Once I got started, I just couldn't narrow it down! But God's Word never returns void, so I figure that by putting these in front of us several times a day, they will soak in! I'm pretty excited about how it turned out. It looks cheerful.

I hung a few above Ryley's bedroom doorway too!



The coolest thing was that while I was organizing all the scripture cards on our living room floor, Ryley said she really liked the one with the castle:



I told her that's one of my favorite scriptures. She responded that it reminded her of another scripture I taught her when she was little -- one about a fortress and how we stay in God's shadow.

"And there was a song about it! You taught me the song, and we sang it on the way to school!" she said, trying to jog my memory.

"Oh, Psalm 91? He that dwells in the secret place of the Most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty--"

"Yes! That's it! How did you know the reference?"

And this is why we're doing this. :-) We might be a little late, but better late than never, right? I'm excited to see how this little plan works out!

Monday, April 4, 2016

Parenting: A Thickening Plot

When I was a young mother, someone once told me that parenthood is a constantly changing journey….Once you think you’ve got it all figured out, baby throws a new challenge at you and you have to figure that one out too. For instance, when baby-proofing the house, you start when the baby starts crawling, somewhere around six months. You remove anything small and swallow-able from the floors, and you generally rearrange things for the safety of baby. You even make room for a play pen. Then, once you’re satisfied with your baby-proofing skills, baby throws a new one at you by learning to pull herself up. Suddenly the coffee table is no longer safe, and the prized super-trendy Zen garden and marble-filled glass vases from your twenties have to be carefully packed away out of reach (and, in our case, lost). A month or so later, baby starts walking, then running, and it’s been a long time so I don’t remember exactly what we did to baby-proof, but it seems like our d├ęcor was pretty bare bones for quite awhile.

When you’re tired and sleep-deprived, you see 18 years of sleepless nights stretching out before you as your inevitable destiny. But one day, she sleeps in. And then all of a sudden, she’s capable of getting breakfast for herself, even if she awakens before you do. 

One day you wouldn’t even imagine letting your kiddo use a public restroom by herself, but then the next day it seems logical.

The page turns, and a new chapter begins. But with that new chapter, the story progresses, and the plot thickens.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Ryan and I have talked about this a lot recently. We knew when she was a baby that we would hold her to high standards. We knew we wouldn’t be popular with her at times. Back then we couldn’t picture the exact scenarios—I mean, Instagram, Facebook, and Snapchat didn’t even exist yet. But we knew that whatever the situation, parenting would not be easy. As every generation of parents has had to discover for themselves, the road to a healthy, well-adjusted adult is bumpy and washed out, unpaved and unmapped.

But I’m not sure we understood how much our own childhood insecurities would have an impact on our parenting decisions. We each remember being the kid who wasn’t allowed to watch certain shows (Smurfs) or read certain books (Sweet Valley High). Sometimes we weren’t allowed to go to movies with friends or go on class trips. It’s never fun to feel left out – to be the only one who can’t participate in a conversation. But our parents knew what was best for us. I once had to leave a get-together with my girlfriends early because I had a piano recital the next day. After I left, the girls TP’d the house where the boys were and dumped a toilet on their front porch, which prompted the guys to egg the house where the girls were staying. The night has notoriously been called “The Night of the Toilet,” and I missed all the excitement.

Ryley is a bookworm – an avid reader who loves Percy Jackson books and Star Wars books but who is not allowed to read Harry Potter or anything by John Green. Her friends are absolutely befuddled by this, and she is absolutely embarrassed. “How can you be such a bookworm and NOT have read ‘Harry Potter’?” they ask. She can’t explain it without sounding like a weirdo. She is allowed to watch Doctor Who and PG-13 comic book movies, but half of the live action shows on the Disney Channel are banned for her. I know she would love Glee, but the decision on that one is still up in the air. In fact, Ryan and I don’t always agree. Some of the sci-fi stuff gets a little too weird, in my opinion, and the Rys are always teasing me that I all too often call things “demonic.” I would be more apt to let Ryley watch an episode of Friends, but the occasional sexual talk is bothersome to Ryan.

To an outsider it would seem that there is no method to the madness. But we have our reasons, and we are constantly re-evaluating her maturity – emotionally, intellectually, spiritually, and otherwise. We don’t forbid things without good reason. We discuss and pray and ask for God’s wisdom.

But that still didn’t stop me from bursting into tears with her when we handed her a big fat NO on the subject of Instagram.

Her little heart was broken. In a group of friends where she already feels like the oddball out, not letting her have Instagram means she can’t see the funny pictures they all post, and she can’t share in the inside jokes and silly conversations. Her friends are hilarious and intelligent and witty. I get it. She lives only in the real world, while her friends are able to participate in this sort of underworld. She arrives at school a step behind everyone else.

On the flip side, by not allowing Instagram, we are doing her a favor….When the school day ends, so does the friend drama. She can come home and enjoy her evening in a stable environment. She doesn’t have to see any of the pictures that her emo friends post showing the horrific scars from where they’ve cut themselves. She doesn’t have to see any of the melodramatic conversations regarding self-harm, suicide, or sexuality. She doesn’t have to read any more of the cuss words that she hears all day long. She doesn’t stumble across inappropriate content that will haunt her and spark her curiosity.

We can’t protect her from everything. I realize that. The 21st Century world is absolutely SATURATED with sex. And Ryley is INQUISITIVE. She knows way more about the world than I ever knew at her age. Thus far, we have created an environment where she can ask us anything, and we answer her honestly. But what happens when the middle school culture has advanced way past her age and maturity, and suddenly the answers are too heavy for her 12-year-old shoulders?

Self harm is all the rage among her classmates. Seriously, it’s become “trendy.” The girls disassemble their little pencil sharpeners, use the blades to cut themselves, and then hide the blades inside of markers or chapstick tubes so parents and teachers can’t find them. Ryley overheard one girl approach the “queen bee” and say, “Hey, I need some advice; I tried cutting, and something went horribly wrong.” It makes me sick. Our school administrators have been doing an excellent job getting  these girls into counseling, but it’s like a wildfire that’s gotten out of control. Some of them are for sure doing it because they have inner pain, and they want to have some control over the pain. But others are doing it because all the cool kids do it. I’m not sure which one is worse.

So with all this going on, why would I want my daughter subscribed to a site where she can become even further inundated with this darkness?

Some of Ryley’s friends wear long sleeves to hide the scars on their arms. She wears long sleeves because someone told her that her arms are too hairy…her beautiful, perfect, unscarred arms with their little dusting of blond peach fuzz.

It’s time for the mothers to get involved. I have just recently proposed to the administration that we hold a mother/daughter meeting for 7th graders, where we can come together as a community and get to know one another better. If moms knew each other…if we could organize get-togethers over the summer and work together to create a positive environment or even outreach opportunities for our girls, I think we could eliminate some of the “emo” depression. I believe that regardless of race, religion, or family background (one friend told Ryley, “Your family is abnormal”), we can all find common ground in the fact that we love our daughters and want them to be kind, successful, and happy. Only good can come from it.

In the meantime, we’ve been trying to get her more involved in our church youth group so she can make some more Christian friends. Yesterday, on the way to a church laser tag event, she was trying to think of a good laser tag name for herself. She wasn’t sure if she should do anything Star Wars-related, because her youth pastor has preached that Star Wars is bad. We told her not to worry about it and to just be herself.

“But,” I added, “between games, don’t forget to talk about ‘the Lord’!”   She giggled. :-)

It turned out that lots of kids chose Star Wars and comic book-related names. And in her silliness with her church friend, she chose “TheDorito.”

As a Christian, I’m finding that the only way to help our daughter navigate these challenges is through constant prayer – for her and others. Sure, she doesn’t cut, but Ryley has a lot of other hang-ups and issues that affect her and her relationships. Whenever we remember to, we pray for her classmates, and we pray for her to have opportunities to be a light. We pray for ourselves that God gives us wisdom to make the right decisions that will protect that light from becoming snuffed out by the world.

If or when this mother/daughter meeting idea takes off, I know it’s inevitable that the chapter will eventually turn, and the story will progress in other ways. That’s just the way the world works. Just when we think we’ve got it figured out, the girls will outgrow the cutting and move on to other kinds of drama. But whatever that drama is, at least we’d be facing it as a community.

Best of all, we know the Author of this story, and despite the plot’s twists and turns and all the many intriguing characters that are woven throughout, we know He is famous for His amazing endings. And we can trust Him with our girl.

Monday, February 22, 2016

Our Mouse

It’s now been three nights in a row that our bold little mouse friend has decided to join us in whatever room we’re in. It doesn’t matter that the TV and lights are on. It doesn’t matter that we’re talking or laughing. He must think we sound friendly. Or, better yet (and disturbingly!), he knows that where we are, there’s (more than likely) food.

In fact, on Saturday evening (also known as Night 2), we spent the better part of an hour watching the little guy run from under the sofa to underneath the ottoman to under the sofa to the middle of the carpet, all while I sat a mere three feet away on the chaise lounge. (This was before I watched a startling YouTube video about how high mice can jump, mind you.) Ryley watched from her safe perch on the stairs, while Ryan retreated to stand on the exercise equipment  in the corner so his feet would be off the ground. Finally he set a wooden snap trap right in the middle of the carpeted area, and we waited. But though he sniffed at it, the mouse was not interested. We literally watched him poke around our carpet, sniffing madly and feasting happily. He was actually kind of cute up close—not nearly as menacing as the mice are when I picture them collectively in my head. Apparently there were just too many goodies, even though I had thoroughly vacuumed earlier in the day. Eventually we sent a sleepy Ryley off to bed while Ryan and I continued the vigil, not wanting to lose track of the mouse’s location. But then, he started moving toward the stairs, darting out from behind the couch and then back under, out and back, out and back, out and back. Ryan, who had moved to the stairs by this point, slowly backed up a couple steps, not sure what the little dude’s intentions were. All of a sudden, the mouse got up his nerve and, like a flash, leapt up to the bottom stair, disappearing into an open space under the second step.

Ryan took off to the grocery store while I stood watch, and he came back with a package of glue traps, which he laid out all along the step where the mouse had disappeared. Then, he got busy refreshing our existing snap traps throughout the house with drops of peanut oil. But after accidentally setting off a trap which caused him to spill peanut oil on our end table and then stepping on the forgotten glue traps on the stair no less than three times in his travels up and down (and having to pry them off his shoe each time), his poor nerves were shot! It was almost midnight by this time, and the mouse was obviously somewhere in the depths of our house walls, having had his fill on our family crumb collection. So we went to bed.

There was no sign of mice yesterday for the majority of the day until alas, as we were watching Downton Abbey in bed last night, I thought I saw something skitter from the bathroom door to underneath our arm chair.

“I think I just saw something,” I told Ryan. “Maybe not. It could have been my glasses. Probably my glasses, actually.”

He sat up. “No, you probably did see something.”

You have to understand that since our first bout with mice back in October, our eyes have been constantly searching for movement, for signs of droppings, for activity on existing traps. We’ve seen things moving out of the corner of our eyes…heard creaking and crunching…only to realize it was the sunlight reflecting off the brass finish of the fireplace, or our dog chewing her bone next to the running dishwasher.

And for a few months, we lived in peace. We did not catch a mouse from November 14 until February 14…long enough to feel like the problem was solved. So we had become confident that our mouse prevention methods were working…peppermint oil in the diffuser, sonic nightlights, snap traps in a lot of hidden corners, glue traps along walls, gaps closed as much as possible, collection boxes placed outside the house to lure them before they even got inside… We had exterminators out twice, but they did nothing. None of their traps caught anything. Ryan voiced several times that with our experience, he and I know more about the habits of mice than the incompetent kids that exterminators hire. The exterminators are charlatans, he says. Snake oil salesmen and such. We originally caught 14 mice with our methods; they caught none.

But after the dual-mouse Valentine’s Day Slaughter in our laundry room, we were jumpy again. For three months, we’d learned to tell ourselves it’s nothing. But suddenly it’s wasn’t “nothing” anymore.
I paused our TV show, and as we sat on the bed, we watched as the mouse reappeared from behind a laundry basket and ran to the hallway, apparently taking cover behind a small table we have at the end of the hall. We couldn’t prove where he went. But after looking the table over with a flashlight, we thought it must have crossed the hall into our office. So we wedged the office door shut (hoping to trap him in there with the snap trap) and Ryley’s bedroom door too, and placed heavy books in front to block any cracks. Sure, there are probably access points all over our house that we haven’t discovered yet; closing doors most likely makes no difference. But it sure makes us sleep better thinking we’ve kept it from running out in the open, from room to room, using our house as an amusement park or carnival in the dark dead of night (think, Templeton the Rat).

“Tonight I want to go to bed early,” Ryan said this morning. “Before—“

And we said this part in unison: “the mouse makes his nightly appearance.”

We’ve set the traps. Ryan’s even put out poison blocks for them to nibble on. AND, he ordered 10 more traps (of amazing design!) from Amazon, arriving Wednesday. We’ve made a “no food in the family room rule.” We’re literally doing everything we can. My poor husband goes to bed thinking about mice, he dreams about mice, and he wakes up “on-edge,” ready to go check the traps, like Pa Ingalls did in the Big Woods. His competitive nature has come out in full force, and he is angry with the little boogers. He’s constantly researching how to outsmart them, outthink them, kill them….to the point that he wished he had a BB gun that night we watched it snacking out in the open.

As I tried to explain to Ryley this morning, we know there’s a mouse (or mice) running loose in the house. There’s no reason to be afraid. The most awful thing about it is the element of surprise and not knowing exactly where it is and where we’ll see it next. It won’t hurt us. It’s not like it’s going to jump in our laps and bite us.

Even so. Though we haven’t seen neither hide nor hair of him, tonight we are in bed earlier than normal, trying to get to sleep before any mouse drama has a chance to begin. Because once it’s begun, it’s a whole “thing.”

If we lie flat, we can’t see the floor, right? So.

As I was reading the beginning of my blog to Ryan just now, he suddenly sat up and looked anxiously around – a mannerism I’m become familiar with.

“What? Do you see something?” I asked.

“I’m just looking. I felt this vibe….It would be just like ‘our mouse’ to be listening to you reading about him and just prance in here because he can.”

And with that, I think I’ll lie down flat and try to forget about Templeton and the fair carnival in the dead of night. :-) Eventually one of our traps will trip him up. It's got to.

Monday, October 26, 2015

In the Details

If you could be a little mouse in our wall observing our new family “norm,” you’d see me in one chair busily writing product descriptions on my laptop, Ryan across the room (red pen in hand) grading his ninth graders’ essays on heroism as portrayed in Homer’s The Iliad, and Ryley pouncing about doing her typical Ryley-thing…homework, kissing her dog, reading, leaving a trail of snack crumbs wherever she goes. There might be music playing; the TV might be on. It might be silent, with the quiet only occasionally interrupted by one of us sharing an anecdote from our work. But we’re together, and we’re content.

The first quarter is already done and in the (grade)books, and yet Ryan’s new teaching position constantly amazes us with how perfect of a fit it is for him. Of course he was good at being a restaurant manager too, but he secretly hated the monotonous stress of his days…trying to fill shifts, running around short-handed, bending over backwards to please snotty customers, being on his feet constantly, fighting debilitating headaches, and always feeling like his life was going nowhere -- that his gifts, dreams, and education were going to waste. When we took our vacation in February, I worried aloud about using so much of Ryan’s vacation time so early in the year; what about saving some for holidays? But he was adamant that he would not be working at Noodles come fall. Even with nothing on the horizon, he was certain we were on the brink of a change. Thanks to some insurance claims and needed remodeling and repairs, our house had appraised for more than we expected, which allowed us to pay down some bills when we refinanced our home. So even the excess  in our budget seemed to be setting us up for something. But what?

When I look back at everything in hind sight, it’s incredible to see God’s hand at work, even years in advance. Even the decision to send Ryley to this particular school back in kindergarten seems like it was all a part of the plan, aside from the obvious good it’s been for her. The school was only one year old then, but we believed that it was where Ryley was supposed to be. I remember thinking that her heart would be safest there — that the school and its classical philosophy was the one that fell most in line with our values and expectations for education. When she was in sixth grade, the school’s success and demand was so high that it expanded to a second campus just two miles from our house, and this one included plans for building a high school, grade by grade. Possessing a yet unused English Literature degree, Ryan applied for the high school English position, but he never got a response. A year passed, and seeing an open English position on their web site for the second time, he applied again. Two months passed, and we’d all but forgotten he’d applied for it when the phone call came on a Thursday night in late July. His resume had risen to the top of the stack, and they wanted to see him for an interview. He was hired less than a day later.

The job was a significant pay cut, as we expected. After all, three out of four of our parents are/were teachers. But sometimes difficult leaps of faith are required, and after running the numbers numerous times, we realized that it was actually do-able, due to the recently acquired financial breathing room. If he had been offered the job a year ago, we couldn’t have made it work; it would have been ludicrous to accept the job knowing there wouldn’t be enough money to pay our bills, and he would have continued in the restaurant industry feeling hopeless and depressed about the inability to ever develop an exit strategy. But this year, the pay cut was feasible, landing us right back in the tight spot we’ve long been familiar with…which, though tough to swallow, is always enough.

And so he began. The school requires three weeks of in-service and training before students arrive, and Ryan soaked up all the knowledge and advice he could. Now, two months into the school year, our lives are falling into a new rhythm. For one, he’s home every weekend and every evening, which has never been the case in almost 17 years of marriage (he might be grading papers, but he’s home!). He wears a dress shirt and tie every day, so suddenly our laundry piles have taken on a different shape (way more lights than darks; few jeans). He’s reawakened all the philosophical and literary sections of his brain which have had to take a backseat for so long. Sure his job is stressful, but it’s more mentally stressful than physically. He finds joy in challenging his students, in helping to shape their character, in introducing them to great literature, in teaching them to think critically, and in reiterating grammar and writing rules. It’s definitely no picnic; many of his kids have learning disabilities, and many come from rough backgrounds. Reading The Iliad isn’t easy for anyone. And he is responsible for coming up with his lesson plans and much of his own grammar and composition curriculum from scratch. It is simultaneously the hardest and best thing he’s ever done, but he is giving it everything he’s got. I am so proud.

“My worst day teaching is 10 times better than my best day at Noodles,” Ryan said recently, and my heart soared. Don’t get me wrong; we are very thankful for that season in our lives. But this is what he is meant to be doing. This is what he was born to do.

And his mysterious headaches? Significantly better! They’re not completely gone, but they are definitely fewer and less intense.

He has a student whose name rhymes with Zacchaeus, and I always know when he’s grading that student’s paper because he begins to hum “Zacchaeus Was a Wee Little Man”! He had one student plagiarize an entire essay, which he discovered using the infinite powers of Google. When he went to the administration about it, they said that though the girl would definitely receive a referral, Ryan should first discuss plagiarism in class, giving her a chance to come forward on her own and thus “build her character.” There aren’t words for how much I love that philosophy…for how much wisdom I see there.

So, in a nutshell, :-)…. Fifteen years after being hired by a school and then let go three days later because they found a candidate with decades of experience, Ryan has been given a second chance…and at a position that seems tailor-made for his personality. In my opinion, his students could never have a better English teacher. He is a clear, concise communicator, an avid proponent of the Socratic method, and the most passionate person when it comes to literature and writing. We’ve taught Sunday School together several times over the years, and I’ve watched him teach Ryley throughout her lifetime, and I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that Ryan was born to be a teacher.

In the meantime, I’m trying to keep up by reading “The Iliad,” myself, though without the daily classroom input from Mr. Moore.

“Is Zeus on the Trojans’ side?” I asked one day, early on.

“It certainly seems that way, doesn’t it?” he answered in his trademark “answer a question with a question” method. “Why do you think that?”

And so we sit on these lovely fall evenings, carving out a new and wonderful “normal.” It isn’t easy, and it has required work on all of our parts as we’ve adjusted as a family, but I am so happy that my husband finally feels fulfilled in his career. The important thing to understand is that it’s nothing he’s done or we’ve done…God Himself orchestrated this entire opportunity from the very beginning. And when we think of it that way, it feels overwhelming. With all of the problems going on in this great big world, He cared about us, and He set up all these minute details over the course of years, literally.

He cares about you too, and I am confident He will do the same. He’s all-knowing, all-powerful, and all-present, and he can handle it. If he can handle the details for Joe Blow in Haiti, Suzie Q in China, and Ryan Moore in Colorado, he can handle the details for you too (Romans 8:28).

Take my word for it.