Doozer’s Day

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As I write this, Father’s Day is looming. For single moms, the annual holiday is often better known as “Ugh. How are we going to handle it this year?”

Some of us use this holiday to celebrate our double duty. Some of us let it pass without discussion. Some of us celebrate grandparents or other important figures. In my family, we’ve done it all, including a brief stint in which my daughters claimed the day for themselves as “Sister’s Day.” But this year, at my daughters’ request, we are trying something entirely new: Doozer’s Day.

“Doozer” is my girls’ nickname for my boyfriend. It comes from the children’s show created by Jim Henson about the helpful Doozers who are famously task-oriented. If something needs doing, Doozers just “do-do-do-it.” It is an apt nickname, to say the least, and is now the only name by which anyone under 12 in our lives recognizes him. He is a great guy. Yet, it took a days-long, anxiety-ridden process for me to grant their request for Doozer’s Day.

Doozer and I have been dating for over four years. For the past three of those, I have frequently fielded questions about when we will get married, whether or not I am a “real single mom,” and if we will move in together. The answer to all of those questions is simple: “I don’t know.” There is something so simultaneously wonderful and frightening about loving again, about inviting someone to become a part of the family that you’ve rebuilt from the rubble, and attempting to trust. It is confusing.

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If relationships are typically a straight line from interest, to love, to engagement and marriage, ours would look more like the wobbly-yet-determined footsteps of a drunken man trying to walk the straight line of a sobriety test. It took a full year to get to “I love you.” In these four years, we became neighbors, but we still don’t cohabitate. He has never stepped into Father-Daughter dances. We do not share finances. We broke up almost monthly for the first three years because none of this makes sense. I know this isn’t the life he wanted. I mean, a financially ruined, emotionally unstable single mother with ex-husband drama isn’t exactly dating site profile material. In all honesty, he is not the man I envisioned loving either. This serious-faced, consistently underwhelmed introvert with a deep need for solitude? C’mon. Could there be a more opposite personality to mine? What was I thinking? He is certainly not who the girls envisioned as the fourth member of our silly, dancing, ice-cream-for-dinner crew. Yet, here we are, the three of us, stumbling into this new life – sometimes with headfirst abandon and sometimes one tepid quickly retracted toe at a time. Because as much as this was not what any of us had in mind for our future, it is the only thing that feels right – this family.

Seeing Doozer with my girls fills and softens my heart in ways that I did not think were possible. The time and energy he puts into them is one of the most magical phenomenon I have ever witnessed. I fall more deeply in love with him every time I see it. But I would be lying if I said that those feelings were simple and beautiful. In fact, they are complicated. As I watch this man guide and support my daughters, I am also terrified. I constantly fight the urge that creeps up the back of my neck to grab them and run far away to some secret enclave where the three of us live without worry that someone will break our hearts again – where we trust no one and are only vulnerable with each other.

I approached Doozer about his potential holiday, fearful that he would say, “This is too much, I’m out.” But when he responded positively, I became even more fearful about what that meant. Honestly, he could not have given an answer that would not have invoked fear. Knowing that he is taking a bigger piece of their hearts each day is, well…nothing short of terrifying.

Second Corinthians 4:7 tells us, “But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us.” I use this verse often when talking about our bodies as vessels of the Lord. Think of yourself as the jar, I tell my girls, brimming with the Lord’s treasure. You are magical and unique, like any handmade pottery, and full of God’s love. Trust Him, I always say. Trust that He made you just as you need to be, His perfect vessel. Trust that He leads you, His vessel, where you need to be. Just trust Him.  So this year I am listening to my own advice. I am trusting God as we walk this journey that is crooked and scary but is the path upon which He has set our three hearts. Instead of resisting the path because it is unfamiliar and, honestly, a bit unorthodox, we will celebrate.

I hope that all of you single mommas celebrate. Whether you have a Doozer, a dear friend, an aunt, a neighbor, or yourself. Trust that God placed you where you need to be and with whom you need to be, and celebrate THAT!

Bring on Doozer’s Day! (Or Friend’s Day or Auntie’s Day or Whatever Day!)


A. Smith

Halfway There

Starting another year. Resolutions not meet or even made this year. Already wishing the year was further along and yet time slowly passes. I bring myself back to the present as I find myself wishing away time, stopping my mind from drifting further along into future dreams or dilemmas. There in the future, is where my anxieties are heightened. Where fear sets in and takes my present, latching a hold of my joy and faith slowly diminishing in the confidence I once knew. All reminding me that it’s the middle, the “halfway there” point where I find myself, forcing myself rather to keep going. It’s at this point I feel the options; do I persevere or succumb. 

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I know the exhilaration well that comes with new endeavors and drives me forward. I remember times such as starting my career, buying my house, having a baby. All beautiful things, but can I just say none of those things fill like much fun right now. I feel like I am in the middle of life looking down both directions thinking I remember how I got here, but when do I get to be “there.” That place where I don’t feel so stuck in my present or dreaming about the future. I love every day, and I am beyond grateful for every single thing the Lord has brought me through. But man, this girl is tired. And it’s now, more than ever I feel the Lord reminding me, “You are half way there, just push a little further.” So I keep pushing, pulling myself back into the present. Casting fear aside because his hand is reaching for me if I just keep pushing towards what He set before me. Time might be moving slowly, but praise the Lord it is moving, and movement means I am closer to Him than I was yesterday. So I persevere. And it’s there in the middle I find that halfway is my “There.” It’s not about what’s to come, it’s what is right before me. 

Writing this entry, the image that is engrained in my mind is of Peter in Matthew 14:29, when Jesus calls Peter to walk on water to him. Peter got out of the boat with no fear and began walking towards Jesus, but in the middle fear set in and he began to sink as he called out “Lord, save me!” and “Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him.” Jesus was right before Peter if he could have seen Jesus for who He was. 

I feel like Peter, having the Son of God before me as a life preserver and I am crying out “Lord, save me!” Jesus knew before he ever called Peter onto the water that Peter would doubt, yet he called him anyway. The Lord is not surprised by my calls for help, He delights as a father would when He is needed. He knows my place, my halfway point and he delights when I embrace that if He is here, I have already arrived. He is reaching for me at every point. Past, present and future. My halfway is my  “There.” 

Daisy

We’ve Got to Start Talking

Recently, I realized something about my kids that I was only able to realize after prolonged exposure to a multitude of other kids in a school setting: My kids are incredibly well-behaved. I’ve received this sentiment as a compliment many times over the years – “Your kids are so respectful,” “Your girls are so nice,” “Seriously, your kids never misbehave.” The last sentiment is not entirely accurate, they are only human. But, the truth is, their behavior is top notch, and it is something I take pride in as a busy, working, single mother.

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After stumbling into this new level of awareness, I started to ask myself why my kids are so well behaved. I am not a perfect mom. I don’t really do discipline well at all. I once tried to spank my youngest and I ended up laying on the floor, a giant wad of regret and tears…before I could even spank her. I just don’t have it in me to do much more than the oft-criticized “time out.” Am I just lucky? Is it just grace-filled happenstance that my kids did not prove true the commonplace that you will see your own childhood behavior revisited upon you in your children? These questions swirled in my head for days, before my youngest provided the answer.

As one component of my job, I teach argument and advocacy to elementary school students after school. Last week, I looked over and saw my youngest (who really struggles with academics) mentoring a young boy (one of the sharpest in the program) on constructive language. “How do you know all of this stuff?,” he asked. “I’ve been around this my whole life. It is all we do,” she replied. Ding! Ding! Ding! This was my light bulb moment! My kids are not extra eager to show respect, follow rules, or talk things out because they are amazing Superchildren. Nope, they do it because it is the only way they know.

This interaction, in addition to bringing me a new understanding of their behavioral choices, brought to mind discussions with other parents regarding the role of talk in their families. So often, I hear, “They are too young to talk about that,” “That is not an appropriate topic,” or “That is too political for them at this age.” My girls used to hear that too. Thankfully, they are too young to remember.  I, being foolishly assured of my own open-mindedness since birth, used to be in the camp of parents who put off topics like racism, sexism, problems with our government, and violence for the later years, when they could, you know, “really understand.”

Then, something happened. It is something that I share often with my students in discussions of privilege. My 4 year old daughter (who is biracial) had an acute and aggressive interaction with a racist preschool teacher that was so harmful that the woman was fired. That incident changed my thinking about talking to kids, forever. It was the day I realized that neither my comfort nor my arbitrarily assigned age-appropriate designation were relevant to the lives my girls were leading. It was because of that incident that I stopped isolating my debate skills to use in competitions for self-edification or the approval of peers. On that day, I realized that everything I taught to students about debate, dialogue, and advocacy was near-meaningless when confined to academia. Having the tools to talk to others and really listen changes the way that children feel about themselves and others. It builds self-respect. It humanizes. It is uncomfortable. It is necessary, if for no other reason than to give children the confidence to put themselves in uncomfortable situations, to surround themselves with difference, and feel equipped to navigate the seemingly intractable without resorting to violence or isolation.

Most parents realize pretty quickly that children learn more from our behavior than from our instructions. If we want to create a world in which people talk to each other, like really talk with respect and honesty, then we have to model that. We cannot cordon off honest dialogue and critical thinking to “adult only spaces,” because that means we are not modeling the behavior for our kids and we are not giving them the respect they need to receive in order to establish a baseline of respect that they must demand for themselves throughout their lives.

In my home, there is no topic that is off-limits. Seriously. Because this issue of failure to talk is not just about what we do with one another as adults, it is about how we engage our children. Need to ask about sex? Ok, let’s do it. Want to ask what an “inappropriate” word means? No fake stories here. Do you feel like asking about school shootings? Yes, let’s have that conversation. There is only one guideline: a shared understanding that we will listen to one another and respond in a way that values one another as human beings, even if we disagree.

I think we really need to reframe the way that so many of us think about talking to kids and specifically when it comes to talking to them about uncomfortable subjects. Instead of thinking about it as ruining their childhood, we need to think about it as giving them the strength, tools and information to navigate their childhood. Because the reality is, these “adult” issues affect them. As parents, we hate that. We want to the world to be perfect. It is not. Our job is help our kids make sense of the real world, the one they actually live in, where bad things do happen. The way the scary parts/people/systems of this world interact with kids in particular demands several discussions that allow them to develop the proper lexicon to explain the way that these things impact them.

And, if the first thought that pops into your head is, “X issue doesn’t affect my kid so it can be off limits for now,” I encourage you to take a moment to be deeply introspective about what that says to your kids. I’ll be clear: What it says is that the topic is not relevant to their lives because it is someone else’s problem. If you make the decision to create that bubble around your child, please keep in mind that empathy is modeled before it is induced. It may be easier now, but when kids have a hard time seeing their classmates (or even their teachers) as worthy of respect and kindness later, remember that those walls were not built overnight.

How can children find the real beauty amidst the chaos of life, in God’s masterpiece, in a deep and genuine way, if they are not existing in the real world? God did not ask us to raise our children up in comforting lies. No, He asked us to please him through righteous lips that speak honestly (Proverbs 16:13).

Here is where I started. Whenever I am hesitant to talk to my children about something, I pause and ask myself the following questions:

Does my discomfort stem from my privilege? (It doesn’t affect me directly so, I can put it off or ignore it all together.)

Does my discomfort come from a lack of knowledge on the subject?

Is my discomfort born of fear?

If the answer to ANY of those questions is “yes,” then I know I must talk about it with my kids. Of course, from a place of respect for who they are, their cognitive capabilities, and their needs.

We cannot concoct a fairy tale world for our kids and then lament their inability to cope, to be resilient, to behave in ways that are both socially appropriate and kind, to listen to authority (or anyone for that matter), or to trust us to help them navigate their paths. The thing is, we should absolutely be uncomfortable talking about important topics. We should engage in reflection before certainty, and then more reflection.

We have to be willing to take the time think about our words, to have difficult discussions even if that means sacrificing some of the schedule, and to stop shutting our kids down in the name of our own comfort. Our kids are watching, listening, and reproducing our behaviors. When we shut them down, they learn it is ok to be shut down and to shut down others. When we refuse to talk about important subjects because they don’t matter yet or don’t affect us, they learn that the problems of others don’t matter until their comfort level is met. If we want kids to show respect and to embody self-respect, we have to remember that the foundation for that is how we communicate with them.

 

-A. Smith