The Key to Happiness

New post up at WORLDMag today.

=====

Two months ago, The Telegraph of London announced the results of a survey that claimed the key to a happy home life is having precisely two daughters, with the unhappiest of all possible combinations of children being four daughters.

The authors of the survey polled 2,116 parents of children age 16 and under. They found that having two girls made for the “most harmonious family life as they are unlikely to fight, will play nicely and are generally a pleasure to be around . . . they rarely annoy their parents, make limited noise, often confide in their parents and are unlikely to wind each other up or ignore each other.”

On the other hand, a four-girl combo produces the most tension among parents because of the girls’ collective tendency to squabble and wind each other up. Parents of four girls supposedly find their children impossible to deal with when the children are ill and they spend the most time helping the girls try to get along.

“The mums and dads we polled obviously dearly love their children,” said Faye Mingo, spokeswoman for the parenting website Bounty.com, “but those with bigger families find it much harder to keep the peace on a daily basis.”

The premise of the article is interesting, if not a bit amusing. My defensive nature initially wants to go to bat on behalf of my family of four girls to let the world know that we don’t consider ourselves to be the unhappiest lot around; rather, we actually enjoy having four daughters. So there!

I recognize that some of the findings may seem true of my family (though I would argue the same can be said of all families, regardless of size or gender combos). But the study is flawed not because of what it “found” but because of what it presupposed-that happiness should be the primary goal in planning a family.

I’m not trying to debunk the desire for happiness in the family. I appreciate peace and laughter and pleasant times just as much as everyone else. I’m just questioning the idea of happiness as the pinnacle to which a family should aspire.

My husband and I didn’t have children because we thought they would make us happy; we had children because the Scriptures teach that children are a blessing from the Lord and one of the most significant ways He teaches us about Himself and the process of sanctification.

The key to happiness is not found in the number of children one has, it isn’t found in the boy/girl ratio of children, and it shouldn’t be looked for in a magical perfect family combo. It’s true that my family of four girls, two dogs, one mom, and one dad know how to argue with each other and push each other’s buttons. But we also know how to ask forgiveness of each other and seek to restore our relationships. These periods of restoration are sweet times indeed.

Happy times, even.

My Hands Are Small I Know…

What do you think of when you think of Jewel? I think of 1997. Craig and I had only been married a few months when I took a part-time job working as a seamstress for an interior decorator in Colorado Springs. We listened to the radio a lot while we sewed and Jewel was pretty popular that year.

Jewel

Fast forward to 2010. After June 6, when I think of Jewel, I’m going to think of this year and the Sheldon Concert Hall because guess what? Craig and I are once again blogging our way through another concert with Country Financial’s Trips and Picks tour. Remember our Jason Aldean experience? (Don’t forget that sweet video we made.) We’re gonna do it again only with Jewel this time.

We’re pretty excited. Okay, *I’m* pretty excited. Craig doesn’t get pretty excited about much, but I can tell you he’s really looking forward to the show.

I’ll tell you this much – I didn’t even know Jewel was a country singer, but I’m seriously cool with that. I like country music and I like Jewel (at least I liked her in 1997). And the Sheldon Music Hall is awesome. This concert is acoustic. It’s going to be a great show.

Operation: Graduation

IMG_5280

Craig is graduating tonight! Yippee! We’re celebrating by taking him out to dinner, but first we must complete Operation: Graduation. This is our little graduation gift to Craig. Well, hopefully it will be. Nothing has actually been checked off yet, but we have a whole day. Here we go!

Education: Home & Otherwise

When I started the education category for this blog so many years ago, I had no idea where our educational journey would take us. At that point in time, it was meant to encompass homeschooling and seminary; since then, it has taken on Craig as a high school teacher and various daughters in public school preschool programs and speech services. And now this fall we will embark upon a new chapter in our educational journey: our two oldest daughters will be going to a Christian school.

It is not a decision we flippantly made. It has been an option on the table for us for several years, though it never seemed like the right time then. While the final decision came upon us rather quickly, it has the Lord’s hand on it and we are grateful for His leading and provision to make it happen.

The obvious question we’re being asked is “Why?” Why now? It’s a valid question, and I’m not entirely sure a blog post can do the answer justice, though I will take a stab at it here.

Reason #1: We believe it is time. While we have no regrets about our homeschooling decisions thus far with all of the girls, we believe our oldest two are at a place where their education will be enhanced by the school they will be attending in the fall. I’ve come to realize more and more that the older the girls get, the less I can do with each one of them. The two oldest are having to do a lot of things on their own and I’m not sorry that they’ve learned this valuable skill of independent learning. However, I do see how they thrive from cooperative learning experiences and the exchange of ideas they get from other kids. I think their training in independent learning will only be an asset to them as they go into more of a group-driven learning environment.

Reason #2: I believe I am a really good homeschooling teacher…to about two kids. This is not at all to say that my younger two haven’t learned anything in the past couple of years, but when I had to choose whether to read aloud the older level books or the younger ones, I always defaulted to the older ones. My younger two have been champs at sitting in on all the upper level Sonlight read-alouds we do (and ironically, my 8yo auditory learner seems to have better comprehension skills of some of these readers than my older girls do!), but I’ve been sad that they’ve missed out on many great books from the earlier Sonlight levels. I’m going to make up for that next year. The two oldest girls were assessed in several areas last week by the school and I was relieved to hear very positive results there in terms of high school reading levels and on-target math. They have a great foundation for going into this situation. It is now time I turn more focused attention to the two younger learners in our home.

Reason #3: Believe it or not, part of our rationale here is relationship-driven. My oldest daughter and I can tend to butt heads. I’ll be honest by saying that when I’ve heard parents use that as an excuse to not homeschool, I’ve rolled my eyes internally before and thought, “All the more reason TO homeschool.” I know that sin issues between us will not disappear simply because she’s at school each day, but I am hoping this new situation will help diffuse some hostility that can be a factor in our relating to one another.

Simply put, I am not willing to sacrifice my relationship with my daughter on the altar of home education. I would much rather focus on her as a person and her character and who she is in Christ than argue with her over how much time it’s taking her to do her math. And, as much as I don’t want to admit this, I will: I know that my persona as the homeschool mom who has her act together can be an idol for me. Making the decision to put two kids in school was a wrenching one in that regard. I had to wrestle with all of the “what am I going to say to _________” or “how is this going to look to ____________,” and that was hard.

I was talking to a new-to-us friend the other day who was homeschooled all her years. In her own words, she had a fairly rebellious ending to her time at home. By grace alone, she has not forsaken God and is a very sweet and amazing young gal now. To talk with her you would never guess she had such a shaky entry into adulthood. I mentioned to her this relationship angle of our decision and she got quiet and looked at me for a second. She then said that she thinks if her own mom had made a similar decision things would have turned out differently for both of them during those years.

Now, who really knows what would have happened there (just like who knows how God is going to continue to grow and shape and change the six of us in our own family over the coming years), but I took that conversation as yet another confirmation in a long line of other little confirmations to us over the past couple of weeks that this was the next step we needed to take regarding the girls’ education.

Reason #4: We’ve been thinking for a long time that our girls would go to the school where Craig teaches once they reach that age (7th grade). Putting the girls in this particular elementary school at this particular time will hopefully do two things: 1) help them foster relationships with other kids who will be entering into the same school as 7th graders; and 2) possibly catch any gaps in their education they may have before heading into middle- and upper- school levels.

The second obvious question we’re being asked is, “Why Christian school?” The answer to that has several factors as well. We are not an anti-public school family. I know a lot of people who really believe they are called to put their kids into public schools and a lot of them do it for the purpose of meeting unbelievers. I will not downplay their decision to do that. We simply have different goals there, and while I’m not opposed to the idea of public school someday, it won’t be for the purpose of meeting unbelievers. If we choose that option some day it will be because we believe it to be in the best educational interests and spiritual development of our kids.

I believe in infusing our girls’ education with a Christian worldview. When conflict arises at school (and it will – where there are people there will be conflict, that’s the way it goes), I want someone walking the girls through that who can point the kids to Christ. I’m not as interested in them learning to be good citizens with each other as I am in them learning how to deal with each other in a God-honoring way (if they learn the latter, they will be the former).

Let’s face it: the tween years are hard enough. They are formative in a lot of ways and if I’m going to entrust my girls to someone else’s guidance for 7 hours a day, 5 days a week, I want that guidance to be with people who not only believe in Jesus themselves, but are free to have those conversations with kids without sneaking it into the conversation somehow.

So, that’s a very long way of letting everyone know that we really have turned into an “Education: Home & Otherwise” kind of family. Starting on August 19, we will enter the world of packed lunches and carpool lines. And I’m feeling really good about that decision.

Perfect Attendance

New post up at WORLDMag today.

=====

The city choir my girls sing with wrapped things up for the school year last week. On the last day of rehearsals, they awarded trophies to the kids. The trophies weren’t for skill or talent—they were for attendance. If you hadn’t missed a single rehearsal all year long (or if you did, but you made it up on an alternate day), you received a trophy. Between three girls, we now have a gleaming collection of 10 of these beauties.

The past three years when my kids have gotten in the car after receiving their trophies, I’ve jokingly said, “OK, hand ’em over. Those trophies really belong to ME you know, because I’m the one who has made sure you’ve not missed any of these rehearsals.” I was kidding, of course, but that joke must have permanently embedded itself in my oldest daughter’s brain because she beat me to the punch this last time. She hopped in the van after practice and tossed me the trophy and said, “Here you go, Mom. I know it’s really yours.”

I backpedaled pretty fast as I said, “Oh, come on. I was really just kidding all this time. You are the one who sat through all the rehearsals. You’ve earned the trophy.” She replied with reasoned cynicism (which she gets naturally from her father), “Yeah, but a trophy doesn’t really mean much if everyone gets one, does it?”

I’ll admit it. I’ve had the same thought before. But I didn’t want her to be discouraged that evening, so I probed a little bit. I asked her if everyone really did get one. As it turns out, everyone really did get a trophy, just for participating. But the kids who have never missed a rehearsal got a bigger trophy and not everyone got the bigger trophy. But she was still a little skeptical as to why perfect attendance would merit the bigger prize.

This was the opportunity I needed. I told her that, sure, it might seem a little silly to be given a prize for showing up every week. But then I told her that what was really being rewarded was consistency and commitment—two character traits that seem to be dying in our culture. Being faithful to do what you’ve said you are going to do is nothing to sneeze at; in fact, it very well might be worthy of a trophy.

She looked down at the trophy again. She was quiet. She was smiling.

And I will never sneer at a perfect attendance award again.

Tourist in Your Own Town: St. Louis – Laumeier Sculpture Park

TouristTown

Today’s installment of Be a Tourist in Your Own Town showcases an interesting collection of exhibits in St. Louis in the form of Laumeier Sculpture Park.

Tourist in Your Own Town

This is another one pulled out our archives. Three summers ago I had the great idea to visit a different park in St. Louis every week. I think we made it to two and this was the first one we went to. 

The park showcases a variety of unique sculptures (hence its name). From their website,

Laumeier Sculpture Park
exhibits contemporary sculpture, as well as drawing, painting, ceramics,
glass and photography related to the outdoor sculpture program. New
exhibitions are mounted several times each year, both indoors and out.
The program draws internationally-known as well as emerging artists to
the site to create, install and lecture on their work.”

The day we went the indoor exhibits were closed, so we were only able to experience the outdoor ones.

Tim Burton Meets Sculpture Garden

If contemporary art isn’t exactly your cup of tea, this might not be the best use of your time, but if you can appreciate unique creativity and a lovely outdoor venue, give it a whirl.

IMG_2814.JPG

The park is open 363 days of the year from 8am to sunset. The museum is closed on Mondays and official holidays. You can see the hours and get directions here.

So if you are looking for something different to do, pack a picnic lunch and head to this 105-acre “open air” museum. And take your camera!

A Message From James

This you know, my beloved brethren. But let everyone be quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger for the anger of men does not achieve the righteousness of God. ~ James 1:19-20

Somehow I've gotten the reverse ingrained as relates to parenting my kids. I am slow to hear, quick to speak, quick to anger.

And I wonder why the righteousness of God doesn't seem to be prevailing over our household.

Oh, that I would see my girls, not just as these small people in my charge to train and discipline and lead into adulthood…that I would see them as people, period. People made in the image of God. That I would respect their thoughts, hear their case, respond to them with love and honor.

And be slow to anger.

Amen.

Can You Hear Me Now?

New post up at WORLDMag today.

=====

I have finally touched an iPad . . . and I don’t want one. I thought I might: I lost portable Internet capability about 20 months ago, and while I don’t regret at all our decision to get a iMac desktop instead, I’ve missed not being able to check email on the road or write columns like these on the couch.

As I’m going to be doing a little bit of traveling this year, my husband wondered if I might like Apple’s newest toy, but when friends brought theirs over the other night, it confirmed what I’d been thinking all this time: It’s not for me.

I’m not really all that into portable technology anyway. I got my first cell phone two years ago so that I could contact someone if I absolutely had to (it’s a “pay as you go” phone and I don’t give the number out very often), but I forget that I have it most of the time.

My decision to not carry a device that enables anyone to reach me at any time has not been a popular one. In fact, many have questioned my sanity, including (but not limited to) friends, family, doctor’s offices, and the sales people at AT&T.

But I really don’t want the capacity to check-in with the digital world 24 hours a day. The truth is this: I’m on the computer enough as it is.

There. I said it. Between the reasons I really need to be on the computer, combined with all the reasons I don’t, I admit that I’m on this thing far too much already.

I see other moms and dads on their iPhones or BlackBerrys or what-have-yous while at the park or in a Bible Study or during a group meeting, and while they are physically present with their kids or their friends, their activity suggests their minds are elsewhere.

We’ve had dinner with others and watched in surprise while, in the middle of a conversation, they glanced down to check the latest text that came in . . . and even quickly responded to it. Something about that activity suggests a profound lack of respect for the people you are with. (My husband forbids us from answering the phone when we sit down to dinner for that very reason.)

I know myself well enough to know that if I had the capacity to check email and such on the go as much as I wanted to, I would; because of my tendencies, therefore, I’m choosing not to go there.

So I’m letting the iPad go the way of the iPhone: I wish it well, and I might enjoy playing with someone else’s on occasion. But as for me and my house, we’ll keep our landline.