Saturday, December 12, 2015

Advent Lessons From Watching My Daughters

Pictures from last Sunday, because the girls had to wear their Sunday hats.

Grace is sporting a yellow knit, given to her (and one for L too) from a tech who loves when the girls come visit the ED. Silver star leggings and a horse-themed top confirm her wild spirit.

Laura, as you may recognize, if wearing her sister's last season Hanna Andersson sweater dress and matching hat. She was less enthused about the hat. 

Since we've been back in PA, it's been a case of WE CAN DO IT. I haven't been feeling well, and by the end of the month, I started dealing with some tough customers who do not like the work load of AP US History. This is a tough balance, because a student needs to have good time management skills with his/her studies, or it does become a lot harder. I've worked with my boss on adjusting the class, and, alas, not all are satisfied. Unfortunately, this is not going to change the class. There are still requirements, and I'm sure this will be a life lesson for all. Maybe, one day, they'll appreciate these lessons - and me. Ha.  

The girls and I spend a lot of time together, and they teach me every day. Here's what I pick up from the littles this Advent Season:

1. Nothing without quality time

The past two nights, the girls have stayed up past their bed time so they can spend time with their Dad. It does not affect their sleep schedule too much, fortunately, and Will is always extra happy to see them. (It's a bummer to leave in the morning and not see your kids before they go to bed! Also why we stop by the hospital often.)

When I am not in class, I try to do work around them as well as sit and play. Laura is learning how to use a sippy cup and drink from a straw (we skip bottles around here) and it's really fun teaching her - she learns from watching Grace as well!

I do not think children need a stay at home parent - I do think that children need tuned-in parents. I try to keep the television off (unless we're all in moods, then praise the LORD for Daniel Tiger & co.) and the music on, my phone out of reach and my to-do list handy. I usually have my computer nearby so I can keep up with grading in between snacks, walks, tower building, loads of laundry and the forever list. Since I work from home, I need to stay realistic about what I can and cannot do, e.g. I cannot be on my computer for longer than 10-15 minutes or else a little hand will sneak onto my screen and pull it down. Ask me how I know. (Standing at the mantle helps!)

Jesus asks us for this too - to see Christmas as less of an obligation and more of a celebration of love. That we want to be at mass because we love God, want to spend time with him, and want to join in the feast of celebrating his birth.

2. Do what needs to get done.

To-do lists (I also call them my forever lists) really do help me; time management, as in school, is essential to home life. With our plethora of therapies and appointments, I never have a "best" time for anything. And still, lots has to get done. I recently realized that I can't work out at home, and with our double stroller out of commission, the time has come to join the Y. Or else perish into a non-exercising maniac.

I've started listening to the rosary on YouTube and reading Christmas stories to the girls; it is my job to teach them the faith - no one else can replace my influence in this area.

3. No really; sometimes, you just have to buckle down.

Do I like giving my girls baths? No. Do I like brushing their teeth? No. Why? Because there are always tears. (Yes, even with tear-less shampoo. It's the water shock, I suppose.) What about therapy? Have to do it. Stretching? The same.

The pile of boxes I need to work through downstairs... okay. I get my own message. The girls know (though they do not always comply) that we clean up our toys before bed. Period. Wah.

And FINE, they don't really have a clue who Santa Claus is (they were pretty ambivalent about the St. Nick stories I read them, though they do like their new slippers), but Grace especially loves the lighting of the Advent candles each night and tries to sing along. A definite win in my book.

4. Bumps and bruises and other realities of growing up.

Sometimes, it feels like some of my students do not want to feel the sting of adequacy. Fine, they did an adequate job, but not a good or even great one, and that is reflected in their grade. And maybe my teacher's note was not sensitive or detailed enough; it's a bumpy ride being a teacher too. I attended a prestigious high school where the teachers were very helpful and very hard on us. They expected a lot, and when I delivered - it felt great. When I did not, I could usually pinpoint what went wrong. That's part of the learning curve, and I work with students to reduce the bumps...

But as Grace and Laura learn every day, no matter how many gates and protections their parents put up around the house, they still fall. So, we focus on the reaction after the fall. "Uh oh! Are you okay? What a big fall!" I usually get a stunned look and then a smile; they roll it off and move on. A really hard fall (hardwood, ouch) deserves a snuggle and lots of kisses, but it usually doesn't stop them from trying again. How many of us can get up from a fall like that?

The refugee crisis is especially close to my heart during this Advent season. Not because people are saying Mary and Joseph were also homeless refugees (uh, sort of - they were traveling for the census before Jesus' birth; I would say they became refugees after Jesus was born and went into hiding!), but because THEY ARE PEOPLE. They are fellow humans fleeing for their lives. Did you know before the Civil War many Northerners did not want to help the abolitionists because they feared they would lose their jobs? Or the fear during WWII that put the Japanese in internment camps and kept many Jews from re-locating? We all see the terrorist threat going on overseas. We need to start embracing the angel Gabriel's entreatment to "Fear not!" and look for positive strategies to help, not hinder. I cannot imagine leaving our home right now for fear any of us could be killed. No walls can keep out hate.

5. Keep having fun!

Grace is in time-out a few times a day for various injustices, like pushing Laura in the face if she's too close. We go to the stairs, where she gets a stern talking to and time-out, which is immediately forgotten as soon as Laura crawls over and Grace says, "Hi Rawr-ra!" After the steps, they go back to playing before another rough attempt to back Laura away from the communal toys.

Life can be hard and unfair and really, really tough - so it's important to have fun too. When Will and I were going through a really tough time earlier this year, we made a point to play tennis as often as we could. We made it a priority to do something fun, something active and something together.

And after I've put Grace in time out and they're playing together, there is no better sound than the two of them laughing together. It's fun - it's joy - it's Christ in my girls.

Sarah Bessey wrote a beautiful Advent reflection on joy (for tomorrow), which I'll excerpt here:
Joy isn’t emotionally or spiritually or intellectually dishonest. Christian joy doesn’t mean that we are sticking our heads in the sand and saying, “it’s fine, we’re fine, everything’s fine” while running past the gutter of broken dreams, eyes averted. 
Joy isn’t denial of grief or pretending happiness. 
Now, now I know this: joy is the affirmation of the truest thing in this life. 
Joy is born, not from pretending everything is fine, but from holding both hope and truth together. The Christian can stand in that liminal space, the place of grief, even there with joy. Why? Because joy is the affirmation of the thing that is truer than any trouble, any affliction: the affirmation that Love wins. Jesus is as good as we hope, it’s all worth it, and all will be redeemed.

Now Christmas is coming, so we wait for the Christ child, and we wait for my next appointment and the anatomy scan of our own little bebe. We wait for next Saturday, when Will gets to go home for the first time in two years. We wait, and we love.

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