He Knows My Name

Penguins at the zoo Gregory and AJ

Lately, Gregory has been using our car trips to start conversations about all manner of things. I love how his little mind is exploding with depth lately– this almost-5-years-old stage of development is so wonderful to witness.

Over the past few weeks, our car rides have consisted of all types of deep childhood dilemmas, such as: How long will it take him to become an adult, and will AJ also be an adult someday? When he gets older, will he be a Dadda, or a Momma? Why did Anakin Skywalker turn into Darth Vader? Where does one buy a baby, and how can he get one? Are all types of chocolate brown? Is there really a yogurt monster, and why is he so angry?

So it was no surprise to me that Gregory wanted to have a conversation the moment we got in the car to leave for the zoo today.

“Momma,” he said. “Jesus really loves me.”

“Aw, that’s a nice thing to talk about. How do you know that?” I was expecting a ‘Sunday School answer’, even though we try to stay away from anything trite sounding when we talk to our kids about life.

“I just know it Momma. You know how I know it?”

“How?”

“Because, Momma. He knows me. He knows my NAME. That’s how I know He loves me.”

Despite the fact that my mind was on a million other logistical things at the moment, I felt the immediate impact of his words. I even felt a bit teary. I couldn’t explain why those words affected me so greatly, but they did.

As we kept driving, I kept mulling the words over and over again. “He knows my name.” Darn those four year olds and their ability to say the most profound things!

I first wondered about how Gregory ever thought to voice such an amazing concept in this way. I remembered back to our grocery trip a few days prior, where a stranger told him he was a really cute little boy and “what a good helper you are!” Right after she left, Gregory giggled and said, “She was nice, momma! But she called me ‘little boy’. She doesn’t really know me. She doesn’t know my real name.”

She doesn’t know my REAL name.

What is it that a toddler understands about names that we as adults have forgotten?

I started thinking about how we use names in our society. We call it “first name basis” for a reason– only your closest friends call you by your first name, whereas everyone else uses, “Mr. or Mrs.” as a respectful title that preserves a type of anonymity and distance in the public sphere.

I started remembering back to the “playground days” of my childhood (a difficult thing for me to do, since I was mostly homeschooled) and to the way children mock one another by distorting their name into something silly or disparaging. Kids love to name-call, and it’s easy for caregivers to say it’s wrong and mean.

But are we as adults any different?

I don’t know about you, but lately it’s difficult to go on Facebook or any social media for more than five minutes before encountering sickening news about the world around us. There is such a disregard for human life at this juncture in our history, whether we’re talking about immigration, political corruption, black lives matter, refugees, vaccines, police brutality, gun control or wars in the Middle East.

Regardless of who is right and who is wrong on whatever issue is at hand, the consistently ugly part about it all is the way we reduce the opposing side to something less than human. My firm belief is that this attack on the humanity of those who disagree with us is meant to somehow give us distance and makes it easier to oppose them. We can just boil in our self righteous indignation, type “SMH” (shaking my head, as I recently discovered) and write them off.

It’s even easier to distance ourselves from the humanity of our opponent when we are all sitting behind our computer screens, preaching to the echo chamber, dog-piling our virtual opponent under verbose arguments that stream from our keys instead of our mouths. We also do it when we’re driving and someone cuts us off. “You idiot!” is the common G-rated phrase for this type of situation. We reduce our opponent’s humanity down to a spliced second.

We even go one step further than name calling. We reduce people to labels, because then we feel more comfortable and can make sense of a situation. Oh, they are just a liberal. They are just a conservative. They are just an environmentalist. They are just a terrorist. If we can just label them with a racial/political/geographical/ideological slur, then somehow they aren’t as much of a threat.

But how can something as complex as a human being, created in the image of God, be “just an” anything? To reduce anyone to their ideas, beliefs or actions is to destroy this image of God, to smash down what God created and said was “Good”. We love that which we can understand and control, and even our own inability can become an idol, as we hack off large parts of what it means to be a “person” in order to cling to our arbitrary definitions.

And then we have self-labeling, the most depressing kind of name calling. People feel empty and don’t know who they are, so they look for society to tell them which way is up. Our world is struggling to find self-worth, groping around amongst the things that make them angry, sad or happy, hoping to somehow find an identity within it all. These artificial labels do not fill them with any sort of real love or belonging, and so they succumb to hopelessness, finding ways to numb the pain. Having been there myself, I think this drive to be loved, cared for and truly understood is the cause of so many of problems in oursociety.

Organized religion isn’t always the answer either. As a teen growing up in a Christian School, I was always given the advice to “find my identity in Christ”, but that well intentioned concept was always too vague. It always seemed like the answer you gave someone when you didn’t really know the answer. In my experience, “finding one’s identity in Christ” just became yet another type of labeling. You are a Christian because you say the right phrases, do the right things, vote a specific way and only buy the Christianized consumer version of everything the secular world has to offer. But that sort of “identity in Christ” was just as empty– worse, even, because I felt like it should fill me, even though it didn’t.

When Gregory talks about names, he isn’t talking about what he’s done, what he believes, which Christian movie he just went to, or what mistake he is about to make. There is a name that only Christ has for my Gregory, and it is a love I will never be able to reduce with a label. He shouldn’t search for himself in Christ– he should search for Christ’s love in every moment of every day, basking in it, reminding himself constantly that no matter what happens, He is loved. When you are already full, you don’t go searching for other labels– you just enjoy the moments that you are given, glowing from within. Love is the only identity we need.

I once had a priest tell me in confession, “If you could only see yourself how God does, you would never loathe yourself again. If you could only see others as God sees them, you would never hate anyone else again.”

How I wish I could remember this basic concept! It isn’t about what I call myself. It isn’t about which ideas I align with, how I vote, which parenting philosophy I undertake, or which job I currently have. My name– the one that God has given me — is something more precious than any identity or label that the world tempts me with.

He sees me.

He loves me.

He knows my heart, and He knows what I need before I can ask for it.

He knows my name.

The Big Decision– School or Homeschool ?

Montessori classroom at home

A few months ago, the dilemma my mommy-brain centered around was whether or not to send my oldest (almost 5) to school or homeschool. Since he has an October birthday, he barely misses the cut-off for Kindergarten, but we knew he was ready for something.

I looked into quite a few options. We actually have a wonderful Christian/Montessori preschool just down the road from us. Even though it was expensive, we went to the Open House. We applied. We got put on the waiting list for a few months. Then we got in! We attended a trial day. We applied for financial aid. We got it.

And yet, we couldn’t pull the trigger!

It really came down to a few factors, and, growing up in a family that did a combination of both homeschool and private school, I’ve come up with what I think are the 3 biggest factors in this tough decision. The first and biggest factor is the individual child and what they need. The second factor is cost-to-benefit, and the third seems to be how the mom/potential teacher feels about it.

When it came to G’s personality, we realized that he was NOT yearning for tons of social interaction, all day, every day. In fact, after just an hour or two at a play group or get together he is CRAVING alone time to play, imagine, read and work on things. Sometimes he even closes his bedroom door and says, “Momma, I need some alone space right now”, and proceeds to play by himself for over an hour. To put him in school all day would be exhausting and stressful for his personality. On top of it, we realized that Gregory’s personality and mine work really well together when it comes to learning new things. He is a very focused kid, and I really enjoy that he can concentrate without bouncing off the walls like most kids I know.

The second factor was cost-to-benefit. Even with financial aid, the cost was going to be prohibitive for us as a family. At a few hundred dollars a month, we knew that it would basically suck up the majority of any income I was making from home– money that we were using to grow our savings account. I contemplated working a little bit more to pay for it, which is when we had a real nuts-bolts conversation about our goals as a family. My husband pointed out that we had worked really hard over the past few years (selling our CA house, moving across the country, etc.) to put ourselves in a position where I didn’t have to work. We placed ourselves in a wonderful city, FULL of opportunities to expand our children’s horizons with activities and museum memberships. Why disregard all of those blessings searching after what we “thought” we should need?

The third factor was how I felt about it. Funny enough, this was the dramatic part of the solution! It should’ve been all child-centered, but a lot of it was revolving around my strong feelings on the subject. On the days where I wasn’t waffling back and forth, I was absolutely un-done by the thought of G being in school 5 half days a week. For many of you who know our story, I had to wait a LONG time to get pregnant with G, and because it was something I had wanted for so long, the pregnancy/post-partum craziness felt like a beautiful (albeit, sleepless!) dream. Even on the hard days, I never once wished for my old life before kids. I can’t remember a time where I whined about it, because I was just so grateful to finally be a mom! It made me realize that all the years of heartache, wanting to be pregnant, were actually just preparing my heart to be steadfast and positive, despite the trials of those first few months.

Ever since, I have cherished my two boys’ every moment. Every new experience, every new discovery, every new milestone. I can’t imagine not being a part of these moments– at least not right now.

As a result, the one trial day (literally, just 3 hours) was one of the hardest days of my life. I walked him to his classroom as he carried his little pencil box and backpack, and nearly broke down right then and there. When the teacher greeted him (ever so sweetly) and walked him into class, I watched from behind the corner, and it was all I could do not to take him home with me. I tried to go grocery shopping and run a few errands, but I just kept crying. I called my mom, which helped, but the long and short of it all is that I parked my car and sat outside the school in the pouring rain for most of the time, just counting down the minutes until I could go back in and get him.

I tried not to let any of this show. I tried to be excited for G, wait and hear what he had to say about his “day” before making any hard and fast decisions about whether to officially enroll.

And you know the first thing he said when he got into the car with me?

“Mom. There were lots of fun things. The kids were really nice. But I couldn’t have any fun. I was just missing you the whole time.”

Heart-Breaker, right?

After that day, I just knew, deep down, that we weren’t ready to be away from each other just yet, even for just a few hours a day. Every year is a new decision and nothing is forever, but the time just wasn’t right yet. Long before we received our financial aid package in the mail, I already knew we were going to decline. After making the decision, I felt so sure, so unwavering. I wondered why I had ever doubted myself in the first place! I mean, I’m a teacher, for heavens sake! I make money teaching homeschool kids from home! I teach piano lessons to his age group! Why did I ever feel unqualified?

I think a lot of it had to do with falling prey to peer pressure. I “looked around” (a dangerous pastime) and realized that making the decision to homeschool was going against the grain, and that others would probably view it skeptically. As a result, I started to view myself skeptically, wondering if I was really up the challenge, despite the fact that I work with empowering homeschool moms every single day of my online job! This whole process has been a great learning experience for me to realize that I don’t need to call into question my own parenting instincts, just because many others are doing something different. Moms have their gut instinct for a reason.

Once we made the decision to keep G home, I went into full-on research mode (for those of you who know me, this is, by my nature, an intense thing!). I studied the Montessori method all summer, reading countless books and articles. I didn’t just want to know what the basic Montessori tools and activities were, I wanted to know the why behind it all, so that I could improvise without losing the heart of it. Even though I was already very familiar with the Montessori method, having taught piano in half a dozen Montessori schools, I learned so much through all this research.

I also researched everything there is to do in Dallas, and came up with quite a list for ways in which to interact with others and get out of the house a few times a week! So far, we’ve been to the monthly children’s art day at the museum, the library down the street, and the YMCA’s Play and Learn class that meets weekly (we had to drive a little bit further away to get a time that worked for us). The Play and Learn was especially helpful, since they spend 90 minutes with us doing hands on arts and crafts, story time, P.E. time, and even have 5 or 6 stations set up for individual hands-on learning (and it’s all FREE!). And the best part is that I didn’t have to clean up after any of the art projects! WIN!!

Gregory and AJ at DMA
In addition, since we are not busy driving back and forth from school every day, we have the time (and money!) to put Gregory in a few organized activities this semester! As of right now, he is on a soccer team and has weekly swim and ballet lessons. He will also be taking daily piano lessons from me in small increments. This may sound like a LOT, but since we’re not waiting in carpool lines twice a day, it’s actually quite the “right” amount of busy.

In a future post, I will go over where we bought all of our materials and which books ended up being the most helpful in getting started, but for now, a few weeks into our school year, I am so happy that we made this choice. I am loving doing preschool/Kindergarden at home with both boys, and I am looking forward to a great year!
Gregory Montessori math sticks

I’m Baaack!

Momma date at Chipotle

You may (or may not) have noticed that I took an unofficial blogging break this summer.

I simply have one word to describe what happened.

Burnout.

I think every blogger knows exactly what I’m talking about. When you start accepting sponsorships and getting paid to write articles, it becomes easy to slip into just producing content to keep up revenue. I felt chained to write things. Instead of being able to pour my heart out on this space, documenting life’s little journeys and DIY mishaps, I felt like I had to “perform”. Little by little, I just started dreading it.

When we left on a 3 week road trip for CA (40+ hours in the car with 2 kids!! Blog post coming soon!), I decided I would take that time as a break. When we got back, we started working hard on our backyard projects (in the Texas summer heat, oh yes we did! Heatstroke WHATTT?), and I decided to take a longer break and just focus on being with family in my spare time.

So, that is how I unintentionally took a 2.5 break from my blog! I knew it wasn’t forever, just enough to give me a rest.

I was able to re-evaluate what I actually want to write about, so I will be sticking to it for the next couple of months. We have been doing a TON of work on our backyard, so I have lots to show. Our big add-on/renovation starts in a few months, so that will also be coming up. I have worked extra hard to set up a neat Montessori home-school room, and we officially begin next week, after Labor Day. I’ve also begun working at a pregnancy care clinic, and attend an adoption training seminar this Wednesday. So much to talk about!!!

In addition, the kids and I will be traveling to SOUTH AFRICA for most of December! My navy brother is getting married to a wonderful girl from Johannesburg, so they decided to have the wedding in her home town. We will be living in an apartment for a few weeks while we see the country and get ready for the wedding (the boys and I are in it). I cannot wait to use this blog to document everything we see and do (I have to learn to drive a car on the WRONG side, while driving on the WRONG side of the road! Ah!).

Unfortunately, Jesse is unable to attend, since he has to teach for his school and attend his PhD courses up until the last minute here in Dallas. Technically, if he left after his last test, he could manage to make it. But he’d spend 40+ hours of air travel, just to be in South Africa for 2 days. And the cost of the ticket would be GINORMOUS that close to Christmas– for one ticket, it would be more than the cost of the boys and I traveling, all put together. Since we will be coming back to Dallas a few days before Christmas, we decided that we could handle a few weeks apart, since it means we will still be together for the holidays. I’m actually kind of excited about doing Christmas the old fashioned way– getting our tree and decorating it Christmas Eve night, then leaving it up until Epiphany in January!

Thank you to all of my readers out there 🙂 We will be seeing each other a lot more soon!

Driving in the car with G

Tonight is Our Easter

AJ and Gregory with candles Good Friday

Many people cannot figure out for the life of them why on earth we became Orthodox Christians. They hear about our 2 hr. services every Sunday morning, and they think, “hmm, that’s a little long!” but then when they find out we also STAND for the ENTIRE 2 hours (yes, even during the sermon) and that we have all of our kids with us the entire time (we don’t believe children should be sent to a nursery or children’s church), well, then people just look at me like I’m darn near crazy.

And if that’s not shocking and counter cultural enough, I then tell them about Holy Week leading up to Pascha, where we are attending church 2-4 hrs. every single day, making for a grand total of around 20 hours of church before we’ve even GOTTEN to the Easter service. And that, my friends, is a service that begins at midnight and ends around 4am, after which we stay up even later for drinking, eating, dancing, and general partying.

And yes, our kids are with us the entire time.

Pascha 2014 Gregory and Momma

Granted, most parents bring sleeping bags for the kids. Sometimes we wake them up at 3am when it’s finally time for communion, sometimes we let them sleep. Sometimes we’re right there with them, taking a little snooze and then getting up to sing some more.

From the second service on Friday, all the way until Pascha early Sunday morning, someone stands watch over Jesus’ “tomb” reading the Psalms. Last night, my husband woke up at 1:30 in the morning, drove to church, and read out loud by himself from 2-3am. We do this as an opposite response to the disciples who fell asleep, because they could not stay awake even when their Savior who had done so much for them needed their friendship the most.

In other words, I’m not going to lie and say that it’s easy. Orthodox Christians do learn a type of strength and endurance from many days and years of practice, but we are still human, after all. Our feet get tired. Our bellies get hungry after 40+ days of not eating any meat or dairy. Our arms get tired from holding our kids for hours. Our patience wears thin when the kids cry or throw a fit and everyone hears.

We don’t do all of this because it’s easy.

We do it because we are giving our own human frailty and brokenness as our only and most essential response to what Christ gave to us with his Life, Death and Resurrection.

We participate in his Life by denying our passions in order to highlight our frailty and the ways in which we need His grace and strength. We participate in his Death by mourning at his funeral on Good Friday. We participate in his Resurrection by allowing our souls to be nourished by communion and then celebrating with our church family.

Yes, the kids will have a rough time when we have to wake them up at 11pm and drive to church tonight. But there’s no way that I would ever deprive them of the joy we get to share on Pascha. It’s an indescribable joy that I only wish we could share with everyone.

To all of my fellow Orthodox Christians out there (yes, I’m looking at you, Tom Hanks, Troy Palamalo and the Hansen Brothers!), Christos Anesti!