Friday, June 6, 2014

Upwardly Mobile: At the Intersection of Life and Love

Upwardly Mobile: adjective

A means to shift my eyes from Pinterest towards God's workings in this world. A deliberate exploration of what it means to be a 20-30 something in suburbia and also a child of God. Because Jesus gives me my identity.

The traditional school year just wrapped up, or is in progress of wrapping for Chicagoland family and friends - what a sad, long winter for you all. Monday before Memorial Day, I saw the last of some students I've tutored. They were quite ready to be finished due to discouragement with the teaching style of their teacher. Tuesday I started providing childcare for a toddler who has a delightful personality and (to my delight) helps stretch my kids' compassion muscles. These transitions have me thinking about the intersecting of Life and Love.

Life. What's all that lately, anyhow? Preschooler. Big toddler. Husband in grad school. Full-time mom, and part-time tutor. Soon-to-be pastor. Teacher. Oldest girl. Youngest boy. New city. Midwest. Apartment. One car family... resisting a minivan. Life reduced to hashtags!

Tutoring necessarily fills in some gaps of our one-income grad-school budget. It has comprised at least 10-15% of our income for the past four years. And it gives this mama some life with an age group I love: middle schoolers and high schoolers. What a wacky bunch! I'm a language teacher, meaning that my certifications are K-12 French and German.

Other than personal experience with my preschooler and toddler, I have zero professional experience teaching anyone younger than fifth grade. However, acquaintance parent friends and playground parent friends seem to comment every time we are together: you have a different approach with your kids, and they are so __! Let me give it to you straight: if you saw my kids 24h, you would modify that comment! And clearly, I am NO expert on paper or by the comments that do in fact come out of my mouth around my kids. Let's leave those to the imagination, but if you imagined it, I've likely said it.

What works for me is that parenting dovetails so nicely with the skills I have students practice in tutoring. You know, things like not batting an eye at resistance to practice that is in fact good for the kid. Having the kid show my what s/he can do, estimate the next small step, and then affirming her/his correct move; looks like you figured that one out on your own, kiddo. Always reading from trusted academic sources (roll over and die buzzfeed, huffpost, parenting magazines, and Pampers email updates) about language learning, how the brain learns, and developmental stages; then observing the child and modeling one small manageable next step before the child tries.

Love sees the individual clearly, strengths and weaknesses alike, and loves anyway. Love does not leave someone alone, but actively helps that person achieve the best s/he can do.

This past year saw six total students, I tutored three eighth grade boys from the same private prep school, and modern language classroom. Generally we practiced similar grammar and vocab topics each week, but because each of these boys learned differently and progressed differently, the actual practice we did was very different one boy to the next. Playground parents, the same holds true for your child and mine.

Out of love and desiring to see my kids grow in love for others, Nick and I do some things that differ from our playground peers. But we are not alone: you probably do many or all of these at your house (or your parents did as you grew up).

1) We reference an ASQ (Ages and Stages Questionnaire) for developmental and socio-emotional milestones, and we reference the Parents As Teachers milestones checklists. Clearly the checklists are shorter and better for daily or weekly referencing, but the ASQ is helpful for once a month or once a quarter reflection. This isn't a dry home-as-psychology-lab exercise or a type-A tiger mom search for advantage, trust me. It helps me notice that worries I had one month ago about a skill were unfounded since the skill is now mastered just four weeks later. The ASQ and Parents As Teachers materials also help guide the natural teacher and tutor in me to support my child's next step.

You can find a quick online ASQ at Easter Seals for if your child is under age 5. Or you can find your county (or school district) early childhood office (typically for birth through age 3) that is required by law in all 50 states. Our current state of Missouri provides Parents and Teachers for free to all parents and guardians of children 0-3. The parent educator in my life has been my mother-in-law, who wonderfully has provided many of these resources. Wow, does it ever help to have another pair of expert eyes and ears!

2) We keep an almost media-free household when the kids are awake. Ok, so I do text but we don't own smart phones. Since getting a Kindle Fire HDX as our Christmas gift to each other, a bigger struggle has been using the tablet at appropriate times and in appropriate ways. We don't have cable nor is the TV or a DVD on as background noise. We listen to kid music CDs when the kids ride in the car with us (very unfortunate for adult ears, good thing we keep 5-6 on hand) or we talk about the day together in the car. But the computer stays off. The TV stays off... and our daughter typically has to earn 20min/day viewing through chores, and she can have screen time when her brother is napping. We check our phones quickly for the time and messages, but have longer conversations when the other parent can watch the kids or for a sleep time. Because, really, kids go crazy when mom gets on the phone! Zero to Three has collected some media viewing resources.

3) We parent our kids on a continuum of infant-adult. That means that they don't have to be mini-adults at ages 4 and 2, but their behavior and emotional awareness has to be inching in forward progress toward adulthood. For example, I rarely have physically put food into my kids' mouths since they were about 13 months old... and the only things I kept helping them with have been cutting up pieces of food or holding the end of a spoonful of applesauce level until their wrist control improved. Past 17 months, they only use no-spill sippy cups in their beds at night (because these parents value their own sleep) and instead drink from open top cups all day. I provide the food or drink, they put it in their own mouth! Ellyn Satter writes about eating competence here. Do they spill? Sure. Do they help clean it up? You bet. Do they eat enough? Well, they choose to eat at regularly provided mealtimes, and if they skip one meal or snack, it's no big deal... they are certainly hungry enough in a few hours at the next mealtime. Some day, they will cut up their own food. Some day, there will be no more spilled cups of water. Some day, they will have years of modeled meal and snack schedules and menus to fall back on, instead of mindless eating patterns. Some day, they will be chewing small bites with their mouths closed at prom, a wedding, or business lunch. The continuum extends beyond food to: dressing and personal care, toys and play, pacifiers and comfort objects, friends and family, and more. The questions that guide us: where is the child at, what is one next step, and what is the ultimate goal?

4) We teach our children about God from the Bible since they had an interest in books and songs, and by modeling in our lives. This means that we admit our faults and explain the problem about making poor choices (Nick and I are better models sometimes at what not to do). We teach our children what's in the Bible... but not interpret it as literal fact (not exactly seven 24h days of creation), or moral platitudes (David wasn't exactly facing his biggest fear in Goliath courageously on his own strength like the Nike ad, Just Do It); we teach them in appropriate ways about literary style (seven days of creation) and that David's courage came from God and his struggle with Goliath mirrors how Jesus vanquished evil and death. We take our kids into situations where we are all uncomfortable, on purpose and through happenstance. When we can, we talk with God beforehand and afterward. Mostly, we settle them in their beds at the end of the day emphasizing that God's love in Jesus Christ for us never ends, and God wants us all to learn to love him and love others.

What about you? What did your parents do differently that positively influenced your life?

How do you rely on your strengths and training when it comes to parenthood?

To what do kids (yours and others') best respond from you?

Leave a comment or link to a post you've written below. Love to read your connections.

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