Tag Archives: parenting

The Thief of Happiness

Last week we took our kids bowling.  We rented two lanes, side by side. Scott and I were on one lane, and four kids were on the other, with the fifth child orbiting.

Scott typed in everyone’s name on the computer and each child oo-ed and aah-ed as they saw their name appear in the neon screens above us. How exciting! Bowling is so fun! We chose our balls and began our game.

Everything started out just fine. We had some unconventional positions, some sliding, some ball-bouncing, a few spares, a couple strikes. The scores started to add up.

Well, some of them did.

It soon became apparent to one of my children (who will from this point on will be referred to as the Star of the Story) that she was not improving. In fact, her siblings were surpassing her. Including her younger siblings.

By the time we were on the ninth frame, the Star of the Story was not having fun at all. And each time she bowled she became more and more emotionally discombobulated. Then came the second-to-lowest moment: In an effort to improve her score she threw (and I mean threw) her ball so hard that it catapulted out of her lane, over the gutter and into ours, knocking down the pins in the middle of my turn. She was devastated and embarrassed.

We managed to cheer her up a bit, at least so that she would not give up. On her final turn she picked up her ball with renewed determination. She stepped forward, aimed, and with all her might flung the ball across the polished hardwoods where it bounced, bounced, bounced and landed in the next lane. Again.

What happened next?

The Star of the Story was in tears, two others crying for completely unrelated reasons, one was indifferent, and one was supremely happy because she had broken 100, beating everyone including me and, dare I say, Scott.

Mercifully, though, the game was over, and we got outta there.

Comparison is the thief of happiness, a wise woman once told me. Had there not been a screen up there telling us everyone’s score, the Star of the Story would have had a great time. Her attitude would have radiated to everyone else and by the end everyone would have been laughing. Without the numbers I believe she would have found it hilariously funny that her ball went rogue. In fact, the others probably would have tried to get theirs to do the same thing.

It took a full hour and a trip to Chick-Fil-A before the Star of the Story could finally see the humor in what had happened. We all agreed that next time we go bowling she would most likely be the first one to beat her previous score, where as Little Miss 106 may have more of a challenge.

There are a lot of numbers out there that we measure ourselves by, which is, when you think about it, pretty silly.

If the Star of the Story can learn how to lose and start again using her Own Best as her gauge, then she will find much happiness in her life, since joy is not found in conquering others as much as it is in conquering yourself.

In the end, she is the star to no one’s story but her own.

 

 

Photo credit: Badger Explosion, April 18, 1943, Nevada test sight by Federal Government of the United States [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

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The Only Six Toys You Will Ever Need

Toymakers are the world’s greatest fibbers.

All you have to do is go into the toy aisle, find a box that says “Hours of Endless Fun!” take it home, give it to your child and then start the timer.

It won’t be long before the toy breaks, runs out of battery power, or the child gets bored with it. In my eleven-year history of toy buying I have spent a lot of money on these kinds of toys.

Toy companies should understand that I only have four simple desires when it comes to toys:

1. It needs to be creative.

2. It needs to last. In other words, my kids need to be able to throw it, drop it, flush it, smash it, draw on it or leave it outside and still be able to play with it.

3. It needs to help them be self-sufficient, in other words, no mom required. Toys are for kids, not for moms. Moms do enough wonderful things with their kids all the time, so kids need toys that don’t need moms.

4. It needs to be able to grow with the child. You know a toy is a keeper when the child doesn’t toss it aside when they’ve grown older, but instead finds more sophisticated ways to play with it.

Here are the best toys in our house. They might not be the first thing that comes to your mind when you think “toy,” but these take the prize for being worthy of the label “Hours of Endless Fun!”

Numero Uno: Paper

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I’m afraid to say my children alone have probably contributed to the destruction of several forests. (But we recycle!) We go through reams of paper, using it from everything from drawing to writing to crafts to paper airplanes to origami.

Seven years ago someone told me that newspaper printers sometimes give away “end rolls.” I went to a newspaper printer who gave me THREE of these wonderful rolls, for FREE!

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photo by Danny Dyreng

This alone has been one of the best “toys” in our house. We use it for wrapping paper, car cities, big paper projects, banners, etc. We are now down to one roll, but I believe there is still enough to get Levi through childhood.

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2. Tape

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Duct tape: Good for making wallets, hair bows, fixing broken toys (the ones that require Hours of Endless Repairs), doll casts and neighborhood boat races. 

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Painters tape: Good for hanging up pictures, creating barriers, bounderies, and indoor hopscotch games.

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Scotch tape: Good for everything else.

3. Cars!IMG_6051

Oh, how I love cars! I cannot say enough good things about cars. A car fits perfectly in the palm of the hand. Comes in any color, any style. Can be quiet or loud, depending on the driver’s mood. Can play with friends or alone. Can play outside or inside in water, mud or sand. Can fit in a purse, leaves no mess, and is virtually indestructable.

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I’m not reallly sure what boys played with before cars.

 

4. Dolls

Dolls will never go out of style.

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Girls love them at any age. IMG_3810

And dolls don’t have to cost $100.00 to be an excellent confidant and friend. Naomi still won’t part with Olivia.IMG_6182

Olivia is a $19.00 American Girl copy-cat with ratty hair and a lazy eye, and Naomi will not give her away. IMG_6193

Believe me, I’ve tried.

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“Olivia will never go to the thrift store. Ever.”

 

5. Balls

Now, balls are a little bit of a mystery to me, since I have never really understood their appeal. Watching a boy with a ball is like watching a cat with a semi-dead mouse. They go a little berserk. This toy does break my “no mom required” requirement but ultimately he won’t need me anymore, in fact, he will be glad when he finally gets a real pitcher.IMG_6064

 

6. Books

This is what my kids revert to at the end of the day. It is their happy place, and mine.

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Hours, ladies and gentlemen of the toy-making industry, hours and hours of endless fun . . .

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. . . and quiet.

There are other “toys” that didn’t make this list like sand, water, sidewalk chalk, sticks and string, but you get the point. There are a lot of great toys out there. A couple of them come from the toy store.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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I Just Wanted You To Know

Today I woke up to the sound of a trumpet, a violin, a clarinet and a piano playing a version of Happy Birthday that also could have doubled as a Halloween movie theme song. It was all to celebrate my freshly-turned-five-year-old boy.

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There was a from-scratch breakfast to make, presents to open, a diaper to change, a puppy to let out in to the backyard, a cat to feed. Daddy is 2000 miles away, bringing home the bacon. But even though he’s gone we still read our scriptures and say our morning prayer (offered by Dan whom I promised could say all the prayers today because it is his birthday). We have our normal scoldings (“You are not done practicing the piano yet, young lady!”) and as usual it takes us fifteen minutes to get from the door to the car since the cat always finds a way to slink into the house and someone always forgets a lunch or a coat or an instrument. Once we are in the car everyone fights like tigers about who is getting in the back seat, even though we made a van seating chart called “The Great Van of Happiness” which doesn’t seem to be working.

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One of Levi’s favorite things to do. Sit at a little table reading a little book.

I take them to school, say I love yous and come home to find the dog piddled in his crate. Then I have breakfast to clean up, a shower to take (“Dan, make sure Levi doesn’t get into the knives, play with plastic bags, drink clorox, open the front door or put anything small in his mouth. I’ll be out in ten minutes”). Once I am clean I spend time with Dan, mounting his new license plate and discussing the other license plates he has on his wall. He asks me what it says on every one. When we get to the Idaho plate I tell him that it says “Famous Potatoes.” He gets a funny look on his face and starts laughing. He doesn’t stop laughing for five full minutes.

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We call Grammie to thank her for the gift she sent. Dan talks her ear off telling her about every second of his day so far. Then it is time for Levi to go down. We play peek-a-boo for a minute so we can leave him happy in his bed. Then Dan goes in front of the t.v. and it is MY TIME.

I write my nanowrimo novel.

It is a ghost story.

Before I know it Levi is awake. It is time for lunch with my boys. After lunch we wrestle. Actually Levi doesn’t wrestle, he just lays on you and rolls around like a walrus. This is pretty much the best part of the day.

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Then it is time to pick up the girls. I pack their piano bags (3 note books and 10 other music books) and dozen chocolate chunk bran refrigerator muffins that I baked during the wrestling match. I get to the threshold of the door and find out I need to change a diaper at the exact moment the cat slithers passed me and Dan is demanding that I bring him a snack for the road.

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The dog is whining in his crate so I take him out again just before we go. Fifteen minutes later we are in the car.

I want to listen to NPR but Danny wants to listen to an extremely annoying CD of scripture songs set to rock and roll music. We listen to that because, after all, it is his birthday. Tomorrow it will be back to NPR.

We pick up the girls at two different schools. This takes an hour, so in between we make a run to the library and check out a few books. Books about cars, of course.

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We pick up the girls. We ask them about their day. They munch on the muffins. Then we drop them off at piano.  (The girls, not the muffins.) We go to a park and play a game called “Don’t Touch Blue” which Danny thinks it is hilarious. We make up more rules to make it even more hilarious. We leave the park smiling.

We go to the grocery store. I let Dan get a book with mazes since it is his birthday and since he is aMAZEing. By the time we are done shopping it is dark outside and Levi is crying. He is ready for bed. We pick up the girls. We come home. The dog piddled in his crate again. Boo hoo.

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Naomi’s hair on her baptism day.

I make dinner. Pizza for me and Dan (a birthday promise) and mac and cheese for everyone else. No surprise there. Grandma calls. Daddy calls. Then it is homework and bed. There are arguments, as always. Naomi is mad at Dan who is mad at Sophie who is mad at the world. There are last minute stomach aches and headaches. Dan gets five extra kisses cause he’s five: one on his nose, one one his forehead two on his cheeks and one on his neck to make him laugh. Will you let me do this when you are sixteen? I ask. Yes, he says. Now it’s my turn to laugh. Syrena gets a reminder about practicing piano in the morning. Tears are wiped. More kisses given. Lights out.

Dog needs my attention. Curse you, dog. Where is your master?

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Against my will I play with the dog and teach it to fetch his toy.

I tidy the house. It is my turn for Joyschool in the morning. It will be another wild day.

I write this post. As I write I can hear the baby in the room above me. He is waking up for some reason. I cross my fingers that he will go back to sleep soon, but I will probably have to go up and change his diaper and give him another bottle.

I still have to take out the dog one last time. Is that rain I hear?

This is my day. No one took a photo of me. No one patted me on the back. No one gave me an A or a medal or handshake or money. I got paid in kisses and hugs, and I got lots–and I mean LOTS–of attention. And all throughout my day I thought about how much I love doing this. I LOVE it. I love being a mom. Motherhood is so hard and it is so not glamorous, but it is the greatest job in the world.

I just wanted you to know that.

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The Death of Cursive and Other Catastrophes of Minor Importance

I am entering unchartered waters.

Neither my mother nor my grandmother can help me with this, and my friends are all caught up in the same current.

We are the parents of the first generation of screen-taught children, and something about it makes me feel very uneasy.

All of my kids have Smart Boards in their classrooms. My second grader regularly gets on the computer at school. My sixth graders were given laptops this year to bring home. They use their laptops at school and then they come home and do 90% of their homework on them. For several hours.IMG_5293

They are learning.

I think.

Now, I will be the first to say that technology is amazing. It has enhanced and enriched my life in so many ways.  But at the same time, when I see my kids parked on the couch like this part of me screams inside. I feel this is all too early, and I think we will regret exposing them to so much when they are still so young. I know that schools feel pressure to be technologically savvy and everyone wants to be on the cutting edge of education, but I feel like the cutting edge of education is excellent teachers (which my kids have), and not screens.

While they were taught not give out personal info on their laptops, my 11-year-olds were not given any guidance concerning pornography; what it is, and what they should do if they see it. They were instructed to simply “not view pornographic images” and to “use your laptop in public areas of the house.” The school seems to have confidence that the students will explicitly obey these instructions. I guess none of us have to worry. Whew!

Then I find out that the kids are sometimes asked to gather images to post into their homework. It doesn’t take long for a child to learn that the fastest way to gather images is to search under Images on Google. If the schools think the children will not come across pornography that way, they are in fantasyland. (I looked up “cow” the other day under Images for an art project and stumbled upon a couple of surprises! Yikes!)

But I can see how the schools’ hands are tied. They are as mystified as parents are when it comes to the appropriate way to explain pornography to kids that young. And that very fact should clue us in. Should we be letting our children use any device if the warning label alone is too dangerous to be explained?

I think it is important for kids to learn with computers, and I think it is vital that they have laptops. I just can’t help wondering if this could all wait a few more years. There are things they need to know first, things they need to experience first, and self-discipline that they need to develop. As adults they will be on computers for the rest of their lives. Their childhood should be kept as pristine and protected as a National Park. I want them to be kids now. I want them to draw, imagine, run, scribble, play outside. Am I using enough italics to get my point across?

Not only that, but the year after my twins learned cursive the school stopped teaching it.  No more cursive. That means my younger children will never be able to read this:

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Pages of my journal. This particular entry is a poem I wrote in college about wishing I had my own washing machine. Boring, you say? Well, that is because the juicy stuff is on the next page. 🙂

My kids will also not be able to read this:

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A letter written by my mother

Cursive is going to be as readable as a foreign language.

Of course, I can’t let this happen to my children, so I will teach them the lost arts of Cursive and other outdated practices like Brainstorming and Coming Up With Original Ideas Not Found On Pinterest and Writing Thank-You Letters By Hand.

But all is not lost. Recently my daughter Naomi came up to me and said, “Mom I have one week left of my personal goal.”

Me: “What is your personal goal?”

Naomi: “To not play computer games for four weeks.”

My mouth dropped open. In my mind I quickly reviewed Naomi’s activities of the last three weeks and sure enough, Naomi had never asked to play on the computer (which I grudgingly allow after all homework and piano practicing is finished). Instead she had drawn stacks and stacks of beautiful pictures. She had read dozens of books. I was so proud of her I almost exploded. A week later, when she finally finished her “personal goal,” I let her play on the computer. She only asked for 20 min and she hasn’t asked since.

If we took all the time we spent on computers and used it to draw, think of what great artists we’d be. If we took that time and practiced an instrument, threw a ball back and forth, read books . . . think of what we could do. Well, there ARE kids out there that doing that. And I believe they will be the creative leaders in the future because they had a creative beginning.

We are riding a wave of technology that leads to Who-knows-where, and in the process we are tossing many treasured things overboard. In my mind I imagine me and my mother-friends being sucked into this swift, uncharted current of technology and shouting out to each other, “What should we do?”

The easy answer is, “Let’s just see where it takes us!”

To me that sounds like some famous last words.

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Teaching Children To Work

Long ago, back before the button was invented (and I’m not talking about the kind of button that keeps your pants up), eight-year-old children would wake up before the sun and go out to milk cows. Ten-year-old children would make bread from scratch. Twelve-year-old children would saddle their horse and bring home lost sheep.

Now there is very little for an American child to do besides enjoy one leisure activity after another.

But just because we don’t live on farms anymore doesn’t mean we can’t still teach our children how to work. Scott and I encourage our children to work from a very young age. So far all of my daughters can wash dishes by hand, unload the dishwasher, make cookies from scratch, put sheets on their own bed, make simple dinners on the stove, fold and put away all their own laundry and wield a paintbrush.  My four-year-old son can water plants, wash windows, bring groceries in from the car and open the door for me when I am pushing the stroller.

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Ironically with all of this working my house still seems to be mess. But that is because we are a project family.

I was told once that the key to building confidence in children is not with compliments but with accomplishments.  We are not perfect at this, but here are some things we have learned so far:

1. Complaining is Wonderful

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. . . because that means they are doing something hard. We are not afraid of complaining. We tell them we love to hear them complain because that means they are growing. Any time a routine is changed there will be complaining, every time a tradition is changed there will be complaining. But once they get into the new routine (and if we are consistent), that will become the new tradition. Over time, every family develops a unique culture based on their traditions. In our family we are trying to build a culture of work and industry.

There are ways you can minimize the complaining, though, like this:

2. A Prepared Mind is A More Agreeable Mind

A child who knows they have to work at a certain time does better than a child who is told, all of the sudden with no warning that they must go out and weed the garden. Even though kids aren’t “busy” the way we define busy, they feel like they are busy and we still need to respect that. We’ve learned that asking them to do a job when they are in the middle of a fun game or book results in a lot of foot dragging and eye rolling. Let their minds get used to the idea first. For instance, on the way home from the grocery store tell them: “When we get home everyone needs to help unload the car.” If you wait to tell them when you’ve parked in the garage and they are walking inside the house you might be too late.

Also, this helps a ton:  IMG_3690

Every Saturday this chalkboard is filled with jobs, and in the summertime, every DAY it is filled with jobs. Sometimes they are assigned to specific people, sometimes kids can sign up for what they want. But this way they are prepared and they know there is an expectation (and sometimes a time limit!) They also know that if they finish their jobs first, mom won’t interrupt them later when they are trying having fun.

3. Meaningful Jobs

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Part of learning to work is realizing that hard work can make great things happen. Find jobs for them where there is a meaningful ending, not just moving rocks from one side of the yard to the other. Teach them the Law of the Harvest. Tackle big jobs a little bit at a time. If it is too easy they won’t feel like they’ve done something important and meaningful. If it is too hard they will get discouraged. Making the jobs an age-appropriate job is important. However, I do think children can do more than we think they can.

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Naomi’s green hair

 

4. Working Together

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My kids complained for YEARS about folding clothes. I would sequester them in a room  with a huge pile of clothes and not let them do anything until they were done. This always resulted in much fighting, and clothes folding became a detestable, unpleasant and excruciatingly long and inefficient task. Then one day I sat on the top of the gigantic pile of laundry and made them all sit in an area, far apart from each other. Then I sorted the clothes by pulling an article of clothing out  of the pile and throwing it at the owner. If I threw them the wrong thing then they could throw it at the real owner. It became quite hilarious to throw training bras at my four-year-old son who then got to throw them at his older sisters. There were clothes flying everywhere, faces were happy and we were done in twenty minutes.

I have learned that I can’t just expect my kids to work if I am lying in my hammock and pointing my finger. I have to show them how to work. In fact, teaching kids to work  means a lot of work for you. Unfortunately there is no way around this. 🙂

5. Learn To Live With This:

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Paint on carpet.

and this:

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Paint on ceiling

 

One friend of mine, whose children are all grown now, told me that children can’t do meaningful work until they are 12. I believe this is true. Kids younger than twelve are still developing their hand/eye coordination, their stamina, and their fine motor skills, and mentally they are still in a magical la-la land where standards of perfection are measured by how much pink paint can be used, not how it is used.  Rarely does their work turn out to be satisfactory. But that is not the point. They are children, not professionals. When the eggs drop on the ground remind yourself that you are not baking cookies, you are raising daughters. When paint gets on the carpet remind yourself that you are not painting a room, you are raising sons. Keep training them, keep the opportunities plentiful and don’t expect perfection. There will come a time when you won’t have to keep re-doing their work. But they won’t get to that point unless they’ve made a lot of mistakes first.

6. Turn Up The Volume

When possible, play their favorite music or book on CD while they are doing the task. We did this while we painted these bookshelves.

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Danny was too young to paint so he got put in charge as the DJ and he was more than happy to hold the iphone and pick songs for the girls to listen to while they worked. They spent an hour joyfully painting and singing without one argument.

7. Take Photos

Take photos of great accomplishments.

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Telling them “We have to take a photo of this!” tells them they are doing something that your family values.

Also, before-and-after photos can be a very powerful way to show children that even something that seems impossible is possible!

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Before

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After

This blog post is just another method I am using to get my kids to work. I want them to see that I value what they do so much that I want to tell the world. I want them to see that other people will value their hard work as well. And you thought this post was for Facebook. 🙂

8. Help Them See The Real Reward

People bribe their kids all the time. I do it too. Babysit your brother and I’ll give you a cookie. Wash the car and I’ll give you a dollar. Practice the piano every day for the next 10 years and I’ll buy you a ferrari.

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Clean out the grout in my bathroom and you get whatever your heart desires

But you know when your child has learned the value of work when the product of their work becomes the reward. They will see that if they paint their room their reward is that they have a brand new room that they can decorate and feel happy about. I try to make sure my children realize what they’ve accomplished by having them take a moment to sit down and really appreciate what they’ve done. (My dad would literally take a chair and sit down opposite his finished project and gaze at it for hours.) I explain to them that now something exists that didn’t exist before, and that they are not just painters or organizers–they are creators, and that is a divine quality. I remind them what the project was/looked like before their hands touched it, molded it, painted it; that before they came a long this was just a pile of sticks, or a marked up dirty wall or a messy room. This takes a while for children to learn, but I believe that eventually they will learn that hard work can make their dreams come true.

9. Work = Happiness 

When I was 21 years old I came home from college for Christmas break. I had just broken off an engagement and I was sad, depressed and at rock bottom. What did my dad do? He put me to work. I spent many hours that Christmas in his shed, painting little benches for nursery children. I learned for myself that work can be a great medicine. My children don’t understand that yet, but someday, when they hit rock bottom, they will come home, I will hand them a paintbrush, and we still start working together. And then they will understand what I am talking about, and all my hard work will pay off.

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I would love to hear how you help your kids work and what projects they have done. Then I will share it with my kids. We can always use more inspiration. 🙂

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A Day In The Life of A Kitchen

We GoPro-ed our kitchen. Here is my day in 3 1/2 minutes. You can see it best if you watch it on YouTube so that you can see it full screen.  I’m interested to know if this is as fascinating to you as it is to our family 🙂 .  Make sure the volume is up!

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How To Be Perfect

Perfection.

There was a time, long ago, when I was perfect.

It was in high school. I had perfect grades and perfect hair. I had perfect friends who did perfect things. I was perfectly behaved. I always made my bed. I won almost every contest I entered and qualified for every scholarship I applied for. I was graceful. I was fit. I baked pies.

But then I went to college and I suddenly found myself surrounded by hundreds of other perfect people. My magic touch only worked half the time. Compared to those around me I had semi-perfect grades and I was almost graceful, and not quite fit enough. I won half the contests I entered.

And then . . .

. . . I had children.

Now I get pink eye every other week. My clothes stay clean for the first five seconds after I put them on. The last thing I won was a Relief Society cookie-baking contest in 2006.

The only clean room in my house is the front porch. I shudder every time I consider wearing my high heels. Three days ago I dropped this pizza on the floor, without one child in the room that I could blame.

Then there are days like today when I think I have everything together, everything is in place. I am showered, my kids are showered, and I get all five of them to the dentist for their appointments not only on time, but early . . .  only to find out we are there on the wrong day, and at the wrong time.

I started my adult life reasonably intelligent with more than my fair share of potential.  I work hard. I try hard. I do have goals. You would think that as life goes on I would eventually get better, not worse.

The Most Perfect Person of All

At church I teach the 14 to 18-year-old teenage girls, an age that is often obsessed with perfection. Last Sunday I brought a picture of The Most Perfect Person In The World and taped it to the chalkboard.

The Most Perfect Person In The World, Exhibit A

I asked the girls to tell me what makes Barbie perfect.  Here are some things they listed:

Beautiful, perfect body, perfect hair, a million different dresses, the perfect boyfriend, a big house, lots of jewelry, lots of friends, lots of careers, etc, etc, etc.

After we talked about Barbie for a while I took down her picture and put up a picture of this person:

The Most Perfect Person In The World, Exhibit B

Then we listed all the things that made him perfect:

Humility, love, kindness, mercy, meekness, forgiveness, etc.

After listing these attributes we compared the lists. Even though both Jesus and Barbie are often described as “perfect” there was not one quality that was common between the lists. Not even one word. The closest thing was that we had described Barbie as “nice” and Jesus as “kind.”

One of the girls pointed out that our society distorts the word perfect. But after discussing that further we decided that the meaning of the word perfect was not just distorted. It had come to mean something completely opposite.

So the opposite of perfect is. . . Perfect?

Exactly.

Years and Millimeters

I took a college course on calligraphy. The word calligraphy means “beautiful writing.”

It was not an easy class. When you first begin this class you do a lot of uglygraphy.

For the class we did not use felt markers, but real nibs like this.

And real ink like this.

In calligraphy mistakes are obvious and ugly. Often we had to take out a new piece of paper only to make another mistake. There were always so many ways to mess up, so many things that could go wrong, so many ways to fail.

For instance, we had to learn several different “scripts” (fonts). Some scripts have serifs. Serifs are the teeny tiny marks at the ends of each letter.  The scripts that don’t have them are called sans serif, or without serifs. People often talk about dotting your i’s and crossing your t’s, but with the art of lettering you also need to make sure you have every serif in its proper place, with the proper angle and the proper length.  If your serifs are not parallel it can make your finished product look less like art and more like the worms drying up on a sidewalk after a rainstorm.

Plus, spelling becomes a major issue in calligraphy. You become so focused on your strokes, so aware of the amount of ink in your nib and so nervous about spattering ink on your expensive, pristine Bristol paper, that it is not uncommon to suddenly realize you left out a p in the word happiness or you suddenly can’t remember how to spell the word and. Spelling catastrophes are common and devastating.

In short, there are a million different ways to mess up. Just like life.

It is important to have guide lines to help you stay on track. These were our practice sheets.

Some scripts require even more guide lines.

The more we practiced using these guide lines the better we became. (Also like life.)

With each assignment we improved . . . kind of. But our work, even by the end of the semester, did not look anything like our teacher’s.

One day he brought in some slides of his portfolio and we gaped in awe. He was a master. His artwork was flawless. Then he told us his secret.

“Years and millimeters,” he said. “That is how you become a master calligrapher.”

Years and millimeters. Did not Christ learn that way, too?  Perhaps even someone who is perfect has to grow into their perfection, little by little, grace by grace.

A Race We All Can Win

We all come to earth with different talents that get us different places. Some people are born better at learning. Some people are born with athletic gifts. Some people are lucky enough to be born with that particular body type that is marketed to us as “attractive.” But there is a limit to how much we can change about our appearance and our raw talents.  Not all of us will compete in the Olympics, earn PhDs or win a beauty pageant. Sometimes we just can’t be faster or smarter or prettier. It is just not possible because it is not in our DNA.

But all of us can be kinder, more patient, more generous, more humble, more meek. That is the kind of perfection that each of us can improve on, and that is exactly the kind of perfection God asks of us. And it is in our DNA because we are all sons and daughters of God.

That makes the pursuit of perfection a race everyone can win because it is not about competition and all about self-mastery.  God does not compare me to others. He compares me with who I was yesterday. He doesn’t care if I am better than someone else, he cares if I am better than who I used to be.

So now that I have five children I do not win as many contests as I once did. I am not as glamorous or talented or graceful as I once was. I probably make more mistakes now than I did before.

But I will tell you that, even with the dark circles under my eyes, my stained shirt, and the crumbs in my hair, I am more forgiving, more gentle and more patient than I ever was in my 36 year history. I have decided that perfection less about the spilled milk and more about keeping my cool as I clean up the mess. I guess you could say that I am closer to perfection than ever. I have a long ways to go, of course. But I will get there. Year by year, millimeter by millimeter.

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