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Costco at Christmas: When One Day’s Events are Worth a Lifetime of Teaching

Costco at Christmas: When One Day’s Events are Worth a Lifetime of Teaching

I went to Costco today.

Yes, I know. It’s four days before Christmas, so I might be insane. I almost turned around after it took me ten minutes to get into the parking lot, but we needed groceries and we needed supplies for the Christmas weekend and today was just the day our life fit with errands.

Costco wasn’t actually as packed as the parking lot had led me to believe. There is a 5 Below, a TJ Maxx, a PetCo, and a golf store in the same plaza so perhaps that was part of the mayhem.

Before Costco, we went to a local story time that we love. My kids got some books and we all snuggled on a carpet listening to Christmas storybooks. Before the group reading started, the story time reader asked some questions.

“What are some things that your parents think are good for you to do?” she said.

Immediately, my oldest son (age 7) said, “Praising Jesus.” An involuntary laugh came from my belly. I was a little nervous about the reactions. “Praising Jesus” is not so politically correct, you know, and I didn’t know any of those other moms. Also, praising Jesus is a good thing, but to hear my son answer that praising Jesus is something good that we want him to do – something about that just doesn’t sound right to me. I know his heart is right and that he loves Jesus and loves to worship, but  I have an editor in my brain who is constantly trying to put words together in a better way (good for writing, but not always so good for parenting). I’m still pondering that “Praising Jesus” moment of today. Perhaps another post will come about it later.

I talked to my kids a lot about Costco before we went. “It’s probably going to be very busy,” I said. “You need to listen to my voice above all other noises,” I said. “I have a list of groceries, and that’s what we’re getting.”

I had even packed lunches and had my kids eat on the way to Costco so they wouldn’t be starving on our voyage through the maze of giants’ food.

For me, the problem with Costco is that my kids think it’s a playground. They climb on top of the pallets of green beans. They karate kick each other in the wide aisles. They cling onto the refrigerator doors, feet only half-way on the narrow ledge below. They run at the first sight of free samples and often stick around for seconds or thirds. Since I was the cautious friend as a child, always with creative ideas but hardly ever the one to actually carry them out, I am constantly surprised at my children’s adventurous spirits. Their wide eyes and fast feet are always ahead me.

Today, I walked into Costco breathing deep and moving intentionally, trying to prepare myself for distractions and hiccups. The good news is that I wasn’t boiling with annoyance by the time we reached the checkout. However, my oldest son (the one who said that his parents want him to “praise Jesus”) did throw a significant fit about mashed potatoes. Apparently he didn’t get a sample while we were standing at the table, and his brother had grabbed two. Since this oldest child is often picky about food, I asked his brother to share, thinking that if the oldest liked them he could get his own. My middle son gave my oldest a bite, but this was not sufficient to the oldest so he threw it on the ground and ran, pouting.

He is the logical one, the one who loves to calculate and follow instructions and charts. He is the social one, the one who loves to be around people, yet he is the sensitive one, too.

I sat him down next to the stack of canned tuna. I knelt and hoped that I wouldn’t lose my other children in the process.

It’s as if Jesus’ parable applies to parenting: “What do you think? If a man owns a hundred sheep, and one of them wanders away, will he not leave the ninety-nine on the hills and go to look for the one that wandered off?” (Mt. 18:12)

If a woman has three children in Costco and one is having an emotional breakdown about mashed potatoes, should she not stop everything and focus on that one?

“You need to stop with the, ‘I want,’ with the, ‘He has,’ and, ‘I didn’t get’ stuff,” I said. “You need to stop this fit right now.” He calmed down. Then I said, “What did you do with the bite of mashed potatoes your brother gave you?”

“I threw it on the ground,” he said, eyes down, face splotchy and scrunched.

This child is the oldest. The one who rushes to answer questions, the one who is always right. He threw his bite of mashed potatoes on the ground. I told him I was sorry, but he had made a choice and he was facing a hard truth. I said there would be more samples and he could choose to take them with gladness or to continue to mope about his lack of mashed potatoes.

Sometimes I wonder at the way I speak to my children. I know my thoughts are winding, poetic ones and often come out with the confusion and many viewpoints. I am trying to speak more clearly, to pause and edit before I give my children directions. Somehow, my son understood what I was telling him and he only mentioned mashed potatoes once more.

We walked out of Costco smiling, and to me that means success.

Epilogue

In the parking lot, the oldest son said, “Sorry, mom, for throwing a fit about mashed potatoes. Sorry [brother]. Sorry [sister].” This was not a perfect day, but since no person is perfect, neither can our days be. Still, we praise, as my son said at story time. I recently read a blog on “homeschooling in the grocery store,” including scavenger hunts and math games to give your children. I have considered that side of shopping, but for me, the grocery store is as much a place for character building as it is for mathematics. With or without charts and calculators, we’re learning both every day.

On Buying a House and Walking in Promise

On Buying a House and Walking in Promise

I could tell you that we bought a house, but unless you have been standing next to us, you wouldn’t understand the victory wrapped up in these walls. It’s just a house, a residence, a thing made from wood and nails. You might have one too. Maybe when you think about a house, you just think about to-do lists and Saturdays filled. Maybe you think about the decorating and the furnishing. I have. Exciting colors or monochromatic schemes to soothe or brighten. It’s exciting, scary, big. That’s what you might say because if you weren’t there for the battle you can’t understand the weight of winning.

I could tell you how we were led to pray daily for a year, “Thank you God for Egypt.” As if we were slaves. As if we were forced by whips into the life we had. We weren’t forced. Not really. Yet somehow there we were, thanking God for our Egypt. For where we were. “Thank you God for Egypt.” For our slavery. For the precursor to our freedom. For the time before walking into a promise. Then one day, “Thank you God for Canaan.” For the promise.

One day our four-year-old drew a picture. He started with half a circle. He said, “This is the sun. It’s warming the food.” But he hadn’t drawn food yet. The image of the sun wasn’t even complete. And yet there was the sun, shining in the mind of my little boy, warming a table full of food that hadn’t shown up yet.

Another half a year went by. We fell for two houses. We were sure of them, but we waited and found that neither one was right.

Still saying, “Thank you God for Canaan.” For a land that He would show. A place to which He would lead us. Two other houses, a nudge to keep looking, a small flood in an attic. God said keep looking, so we did.

It’s only a house, you might say, though we all know that buying a house has its own weight. The abstract idea of a mortgage, money that we don’t yet have but over 30 years we will have found. That’s longevity and it takes another measure of faith.

A table set, but not yet drawn. A meal not yet harvested. The sun had only half risen and yet was providing warmth. This is the plan. God doesn’t respond to need, but to faith. Those are not my own words, but true ones. We have seen it. We have been without, cried tears of desperation at the slavery of metaphorical Egyptian kings.

God said, “Let my people go,” then Moses spoke it. Again and again he spoke it, bringing plague after plague on a stubborn nation unwilling to let go of their free labor.

When you don’t believe in a cause, you can’t possibly give your whole self to it. You can’t possibly do your best work. When you are forced, mistreated, abused, you can’t possibly be serving cheerfully.

Slavery? I have been reluctant to use that word because we are free people living abundantly in a nation of wealth. For us, Egypt seems to have been the physical place we lived for several months, a place of transition for our family.

God never forces us, but gently leads us into areas we would never tread alone. The Red Sea was vast, a powerful giant carrying life, yet humans cannot naturally survive in the sea.

God showed himself faithful, gave freedom to a nation filled with people who would betray him, continuing the battle of the human condition, onward to grace and mercy.

The war isn’t over. Only one battle won. “Only.” I am not trying to diminish it, but bring perspective. God’s glory shines through ages. Victory brings its own battles. The Israelites had to fight for their promise. We all have to continue in daily thankfulness. Daily praise. Daily remembrance of the wonders we have seen.

I could tell you we bought a house, but that’s like saying the Israelites just moved. They didn’t just move. They walked out of slavery. They stood on the floor of the ocean. They were covered by cloud, led by fire, and fed by manna. They were given the land of milk and honey, not without trials, but neither without God’s hand.

And I hear the words of my four-year-old again and again. “This is the sun. It’s warming the food.” Hand still drawing, a promise yet to see.

The Amazing Thing Is…

The Amazing Thing Is…

I have this deep desire to do amazing things with my kids. Things like build a Habitat for Humanity house and go pick up trash on the highway. But you can’t take preschoolers to the side of a highway. I mean, I can barely take them grocery shopping. But I try anyway, then I get frustrated and wonder why life isn’t going well.

I have these thoughts, these grand plans which hardly ever work out because right on the surface of my thought process lies a problem. It’s my definition of the word amazing.

My first reason for using that word is that I want to do memorable things, and memorable things begin with amazing plans, right?

Wrong.

Often the memorable things are the unplanned ones.

This summer, we planned a trip to Maine and a few weeks ago, we were there. We had to plan it, but the planning isn’t what made it memorable. It was memorable because of the times we sat on a dock and both my son’s caught their first fish. No one could have planned that. The fact that fish held on to my sons’ lures was a surprise, and a joyous one at that. On the way to Maine, we stopped in Boston for a Red Sox game and the boys got to run the bases after. We had to plan it (we had to purchase tickets in advance and make travel arrangements), but that’s not why is was memorable and amazing. It was memorable because of the way the ice cream tasted as we all scooped it from one sticky bowl. It was memorable because, while walking on the field, our kinesthetic three year-old grabbed a handful of Fenway dirt and wouldn’t let go.

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Sure, planning is often important. But I’m going to argue that it’s not vital. The amazing things in life, the things that we remember, are often experienced because of unplanned wonderment (or, our giving into child-likeness). Maybe I’m arguing this because I’m not a planner. Actually, I’m a self-diagnosed un-organizer, someone who believes that everything at home has a perfect place, but where is it?! I am constantly searching for the answer. I have moments when I want to throw everything out because I feel like I can’t handle all the stuff. Then I realize that we really don’t have that much stuff and we use almost everything we do have. Sometimes I think we need to throw our organizing and planning out, instead of all our stuff.

I feel like my kids should have structure (and they sort of do). But I also know that life is made in the small moments. Like when we come home from grocery shopping and I hand each of my kids each a box of cereal to carry inside, then they do. Like when we spot a pile of ants eating a piece of apple that dropped from the breakfast table and we watch, amazed at the jobs of little insects. Like when a baby sleeps in and I get to make pancakes with the boys, actually letting them help with the measuring and stirring.

I want to do things we all enjoy. I want to teach my kids to help people, and I want to teach them the value of hard work.

But for them, sweeping under the table is hard work. Picking up that ant-infested piece of apple is building their life skills. Maybe once they master things like keeping our home clean and well, we can go out and work on building someone else’s.

Preschoolers really are quite amazing, though. It’s just they’re hard to wrangle. They’re hard to  talk to. They’re hard to understand. Yet when I decide to sit down and listen, when I stop trying to plan and organize (these efforts are almost always futile anyway), my kids make a lot of sense. Often, they say the things that are on my mind anyway. They inspire me and help me. And together we build life.

That is where amazing is made.

Are you an organizer? Do you thrive on schedules? What kinds of amazing things happen when you do?

Or does planning give you a tiny heart attack and make you want to just go to the playground and hide under the slide with your kids? Do you wish you were better at organizing? Or have you found balance in your life?

Haha! Balance… Personally, I’ll leave that up to my symmetrical, orderly 5 year-old who proved his mind is made for symmetry when he made this scale all by himself the other day.

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Yeah, this scale. All on his own. Kid is made for mathematics! Amazing.