Posts Tagged ‘children


The Stimulus in the Corner

A man I look up to a great deal gave me some advice.  It was the best advice I have ever gotten.  I felt backed into a corner with no way out, so I was complaining and he said, “Why would let someone back you into a corner?  If you live right, you’ll never be in the corner.”  At first, I thought he just didn’t understand that I didn’t have a way out.  Then I realized that I had absolutely gotten myself into the situation and I had no choice but to find a way out, by changing my attitude in a drastic way.  The funny thing is, I don’t even remember the situation I was in.  I just remember this advice and the many choices I have made because of it. 

Our nation is backed into a corner.  Collectively, we were irresponsible and we landed ourselves up against a wall with now way out.  We achieved some financial success, but saw no reason for gratitude.  Instead, we borrowed more to satisfy our every whim.  Then, we failed to hold our leaders to any standard.  In our apathy, we stopped expecting honesty and objectivity from our media.  Now, we have a mess and we need to change our attitude.  Actually, we need to change our entire lives.  Everything needs to be different. 

We’ve been offered a solution in the form of an economic stimulus.  Now the question is whether to take it or leave it.  It is so appealing.  We could accept this solution at little or no cost – right now.  Eight hundred and nineteen billion dollars is so much money.  Properly spent, it could solve all of our problems, to be sure.  What then, would it leave our children with?  The interest alone on this $819,000,000,000.00 is more than we have spent on the war in Afghanistan.  The size of the spending package is equal to the national budget in 1984 and it is two thirds of our current budget, that’s for all government spending.  All of it.  In the ’90’s, a $19 billion dollar stimulus package was on the table and Bill Clinton, not known for fiscal responsibility, said it was too aggressive.  That was less than a quarter of the size of this package just a little over 10 years ago.  This money means $5000.00 for every household in America.  Right now, to fund the bill, every household would have to cough up $5,000.00.  When the nation is paying it back in 20 years, our children will bear the burden of $819 billion plus all that interest.  The tax burdenwill be crushing.  What this means is that this package will create another bubble, tantamount to the housing bubble or the tech bubble, that is destined to burst.  The question is, what will become of the next generation when this colossal bubble bursts?  If we pass this stimulus package, we are keeping ourselves backed into this corner. 

So what if we don’t?  I would love to say that this is a media-induced frenzy, and there is some evidenct to that point.  It is not hard to believe that if the economic situation is dire enough, we will do anything to solve it long before we take the time to truly consider our options.  And let’s be informed.  In the ’80’s, a time that keeps popping up in the media, unemployment hovered around 7 per cent and peaked briefly around 10.  It was believed then that if unemployment sunk below 6 per cent, inflation would run out of control.  Six to seven per cent unemployment was the goal then and that’s exactly where we are now.  We are moving higher, but is that the result of media-induced hysteria?  Everybody I know is employed right now, but nobody will spend.  When spending stops, commerce stops.  When commerce stops, production stops.  When production stops, jobs are lost. 

Also, the housing numbers for December are in.  New mortgages rose by 6.5% in December.  January is proving to be one of the busiest months many in the mortgage industry remember.  Those official numbers will be in within the next few weeks.  Interestingly, this optimistic news did not get a lot of press.  I, for one, am so hungry for positive economic data that I leapt on the news.  I waited for it to be touted near and far, but then, it fell flat.  In fact, to recall the exact figure I had to find the Australian version of the Wall Street Journal. 

Another thing we cannot deny – corporations are still making money.  American business is still profitable.  It may not be as profitable as shareholders and board members would like, but profits are there.  In the ’80’s, a lot of business was not profitable, not at all.  Then, the general population seemed to have enough common sense to understand that some years are better than others.  This was not a profitable business cycle.  This is not where we are right now. 

I have to wonder if our situation merits $819,000,000,000.00?  I really, truly want to believe that it does not.  But I don’t want to be wrong.

So every time I am confident that the media has hyped us to the edge of sanity, I remember the reason we are here.  Hedge funds.  A credit market gone wild.  In the last decade, the United States has lost ground as a producing country.  We offer services, intellectual property, and money.  Even in the beginning, when I was young and clueless, I looked at our credit markets and wondered where the money was coming from.  How, I wondered, did Household credit have enough reserves all of a sudden to loan billions of dollars to high risk customers?  It seemed that every company was doing this and I knew a very small bit about reserves and risk factors and it simply didn’t make sense.  I was 27 when I noticed this, and I was certainly no economist.  SO, how did Alan Greenspan miss it?  How did the OCC miss it?  How did we end up here where are lending institutions have a trillion dollar shortfall in reserves?  That is the crux of the problem, one trillion dollars, or one and a half, but whose counting?  When I remember that huge number, I have to wonder, do we need $819,000,000,000.00?  Possibly.  Should we take it?  Will it make a difference?  Will it make it worse?

It will make it worse.  It may save us now, in the short term, but we should be very concerned about what we are leaving to our children.  If we could find it within ourselves to change our way of life and to change our attitudes, we could keep our children out of the corner.


Mirror, Mirror in the Crib…

Since I have been a mother, I have made an obvious assumption that God gave us family as an earthly expression of His unconditional love.  I noticed that when the girls were unselfish, I wanted to give them more.  When they made good decisions, I trusted them with more.  It felt like I learned more and more about the Lord my Father with each passing day and I have been grateful for His love and His example. 

So I thought I had it all figured out and things were good.  But then, God felt like I should learn a little more.  He loves that.  It’s time for the annual gift binge, complicated this year by the addition of my teen daughter’s social life.  Now it’s the annual gift and party binge from reindeer hell!  After spending yet another evening driving her to yet another party and waiting in yet another parking lot to pick her up, I thought about how much I love the words “thank you.”  There is a lot of thinking time in the parking lots I frequent, so I spent some time on this, mostly because I knew I wasn’t likely to hear it.  I love to hear “thank you.”  It is usually followed by “I love you” and is all around great.  It makes me so happy to hear and I am so concerned when I don’t, when favors from me or others are taken for granted. 

Aha!  If God gave us a picture of His love when he gave us a family, then he handed us a mirror when our children were born.  I began to wonder, sitting in that parking lot, if God loves to hear “thank you” from us as much as I love to hear it from my children.  The Bible mentions gratitude hundreds of times.  He must love it.  Like our children, there is a reason we should offer thanks.  The minute we realize we have something to be thankful for, our troubles miraculously shrink.  Gratitude makes us want to share.  It makes us happy and it brings true joy.

So I wondered if God was holding up a mirror for me, a reminder that I don’t remember to thank Him for the ride – ever – but I sure complain when it is bumpy.  Or crowded.  Or lonely.

When Daughter Number One was in kindergarten, I got The Call from her teacher.  She had done something awful and was more rude than remorseful.  My first reaction was exactly what the teacher expected, “Where would she pick up something like that?”  The teacher was silent long enough for me to realize exactly where she picked it up.  Number One showed me all kinds of bad habits and unacceptable behaviors I had, so I have known about the mirror.  The problem is, I thought the mirror was mine.  Fourteen years later, I understand that the mirror, like everything else, is the Lord’s.


Magic Rediscovered

You know when you fall asleep on the couch and you are perfectly comfortable until suddenly you’re freezing, but not enough that you wake up and do something about it?  If you are lucky, you can reach a blanket in your sleep.  If you’re even luckier, someone will come and cover you up so you can snuggle back into your pleasant dream.  Well, that’s Christmas.  For years I have been freezing, but I finally found a blanket. 

The freeze started in the Barbie aisle at Target on Black Friday.  I realized that the years of Barbies and other dolls were long gone, yet I hadn’t once captured the magic that was the promise of the season.  It was not for lack of effort.  Every year I began shopping on Black Friday and finished on Christmas Eve, rushing from work to home to mall to boutique to big box store seeking perfection tied up with a bow.  I swore it off this year.  I resolved to cut the shopping back long before the economy tanked but I had no expectation that I would be able to stand my ground against the four color glossy ads.

But today the reinforcements came and helped put up our tree.  It was the first time we have managed to do it as a family from start to finish.  In true Norman Rockwell style, we listened to festive music, laughed, and reminisced all day.  Once the stockings were hung and the halls were decked, we continued to giggle around the breakfast bar where we snacked and teased my older daughter about her new love (she has her very first boyfriend).  Then, the cheese fest continued as we played Christmas carols and sang by the tree.  When we finally modelled the last tree skirt and untangled the little one from the lights, we cuddled up to watch “Elf.”  Then, we topped the evening off by tucking the little lovelies into the empty space under the tree where they are now sound asleep.  Even the older one at fourteen thrilled a the idea of sleeping under the tree.  It’s empty there right now, but particularly beautiful.

That empty space under the tree is exactly what I wanted for Christmas.  I never would have found it at Target.  I don’t know how I missed it for 14 years, but I’m grateful that I finally got it in the nick of time.  My normal routine is to decorate without involvement from the girls so I can get it done quickly and get out to find perfection tied up with a bow.  All that hunting and the Christmas magic I longed for was right here at home.  It was even waiting for me but I was way too busy.  It concerns me that I was convinced I had made my loved ones a priority this season because of the time I spent shopping for all the perfect gifts.  Surprisingly, the gifts were the true priority.  That’s where my time went.  Giving is lovely, but it is completely different from loving.  And despite what the retailers have said, loving is the true magic of the season.


Stolen Magic

img_1741Black Friday is over.  Retailers are steeling themselves for the financial fallout as their lowered expectations are met.  So is my family.  Last Christmas, as happened every Christmas before, we left Grandma’s house wedged into the car among enough new belongings to start a second household.  It was bittersweet.  On one hand, the girls couldn’t wait to get home and unpack their treasures.  On the other hand, we all knew how hard it was to find the right gifts for children, friends, and grandparents because we have everything under the sun and we know that so many don’t.  My husband and I knew then, when our then-six-year-old unwrapped her second MP3 player, that a line had been crossed and it may be difficult to even find the other side, much less get to it. 

So we determined to cut back.  So did my grandparents.  So did my parents.  So did my blessed princesses, but it was not voluntary.

Amid my resolve to teach my children the true joy of this season, I am shocked that I have been knocked over by eight tiny reindeer.  For the first time in years, I did not get a JC Penny snowglobe, the prize of a true Black Friday veteran.  Even if I wasn’t getting anyone a sweater, I still stood in line just to prove that I was a soldier prepared to brave the crowds at 5:00 am even after downing half a bottle of wine and the leftovers of a meal that never ended.  From Penny’s, I would hit Circuit City.  Then Wal-Mart for the essentials.  Then Target.  Then Old Navy, Bed Bath & Beyond.  Then Pier One, TJ Maxx, and finally the mall to visit Macy’s and the Hallmark Store.  Of course, I would visit Bath & Body Works, then Claire’s for stocking stuffers.  Sixteen hours later, I would be jubilant and nearly done shopping, except for the few items I had to wait out until last minute clearances. 

This year, I worked on Black Friday.  Then, I came home to play a rolicking game of Monopoly with my daughters, a rare treat to play such a long game.  Saturday we went out together to round up any remaining bargains, then came home for family movie night.  I enjoyed every minute, but it was another bittersweet moment.  Every turn of the aisle in Target unearthed a little more holiday melancholy.  First, I miss my snowglobe.  There will be an empty “2008” spot on my console table.  But of course, there is so much more.  

I have fallen for a tremendous, damaging, and tragic lie.  All this time, I have searched Penny’s Circuit City, Wal-Mart, Target (I nearly found it there), and all the others for magic.  I even thought I found it there and I think I convinced my daughters they can find it there, too.  Each year, I try desperately to create the magical scenes of ecstatic children opening beautifully wrapped treasures beside a perfectly lit tree.  The tree was always perfect, thanks to my mother, but that was it.  The harder I tried, the bigger the failure.  I have books and books of holiday stories that I planned to read to these girls by the light of the Christmas tree.  It never happened.  Most of the bindings haven’t been cracked.  My older daughter is 14 and we have uncracked bindings.  I have a 14 year old daughter who has never baked Christmas cookies.  I am not sure she actually knows that a cookie cutter is to make cookies, not to embelish packages for her teachers.  My friends and family have never gotten a Christmas card from me.  No family pictures.  I am never home before dark on a weekend during the holidays – unless there is a party later.  However, as much as I love a Christmas party, I have never filled my own home with Christmas guests – no time.  The retailers have gotten all of my holiday time.  I am guessing that they did not miss my Christmas cards.  My great great aunt who always asks after me and my children probably does, though.

Somehow the very retailers who promise all the magic and joy our credit cards can buy stole that from me.  I have had my suspicions, but since my escape from Black Friday, I know it’s true.  It hit home walking the Target aisles.  Even with my daughters in tow, we skipped the doll aisle, the Barbie aisle, and all of the toys.  The only thing they are interested in are grown-up electronics and CD’s.  I envied the women clustered around the new dollhouses and mourned for a time that has long gone.  My greatest hope is that they take the time to ENJOY this magic, rather than BUYING it.  

My girls have the big dollhouse, the American Girls, and every My Little Pony made, but there was no delighted squealing when they opened them.  They are not spoiled rotten – yet – I think we have caught it in time.  But I promised them magical Christmases.  According to everything they see, that meant that they would be getting these things and it ruined the surprise.  This year, they WILL be surprised with stories of a miracle that means eternal life with a very best friend.  They will be surprised to learn that cookies can come from an oven instead of boxes.  And they just may think it’s fun to show their relatives they are growing up by sending out Christmas cards and pictures.  We will have a housefull of friends for a Christmas dinner and I am sure the girls will be surprised that we have time to sip hot chocolate by the lights of the tree.   If I get my Christmas wish, my girls will discover that the magic of the holiday comes not from any big box retailer; it comes from the family the Lord gave us and the love He shares through His son.  Sorry Target – we already have MP3 players.


It COULD Have…

Well, we have moved on to Berlin’s THIRD week of second grade.  Last week nothing remarkable happened.  This week she had to step it up. 

It’s 10:30 and I get a call from the school nurse. 

“Mrs. SuzyJ?  This is the school nurse.  Berlin is here in my office – she’s very brave – but there is an object stuck in her shoe.  It is protruding.”

“What is it?”

“I can’t remove it, but it has probably impaled Berlin’s foot.”

“What is it?”  I ask again, concerned that the nurse is going into shock and cannot bring herself to answer me.

“I can’t see because it is in her foot.”

“Is it glass, metal, a nail, or a razor blade?”  I am annoyed, but very concerned that the nurse does not have the stomach for this job.

“It is a paper clip,” she finally responds.  I say I will be right there and begin to pack up my desk and call the doctor.  The nurse there asks that I go to the school and pull the object from Berlin’s foot.  She tells me that school nurses tend to exaggerate, so I should not plan to bring Berlin in to the office. 

I quickly made my way to the school.  During the drive, I tried to work out the logistics of removing a foreign object AND a shoe from my daughter’s foot without throwing up or passing out.  I decide that my only option is to carry her to the doctor’s office.  It is well worth the $50.00 copay to avoid this situation.

Then I get to the school.  If you are unfamiliar with this child, read my post “Raising Berlin.”  No time?  Suffice it to say, the world has turned a little faster since this child was born – mostly because she is running it.  So, at school there is a crowd around the nurses office which includes Principal Marine and his second in command.  There is much concern.  I am ushered in by the secretary who is hurried and worried.  Well, there’s my girl, sitting on the little bed eating corn chips and reading a magazine.  The sole of her pink shoe is entirely red, which nearly takes me down until I remember that she was just grounded for coloring her shoes with red marker.  Still, there is a paper clip.  It is protruding.  It is rusty.  The crowd disperses and Principal Marine tells me I can call him directly any time to report the progress.  The tension disperses along with the crowd and I look at Berlin.  She smiles and shakes her head, “Don’t take that thing….Don’t hurt me.”  I hold up the extracted offender and Berlin squeals, “So it WAS just in my shoe!”  She scampers down off the table.  The nurse mentions that she raised some concern with the amount of screaming that went on when the paper clip entered her…shoe.  I assurred her that I was suspicious the minute she said Berlin was being brave ’cause that girl’s a screamer and a gusher!

We made our way to the lunch room where Mrs. First Year (she seems to believe everything Berlin throws her way – pity next year’s audacious child) is reassuring the class, telling them that Berlin’s mother is on the scene and Berlin will surely make a full recovery.  We walk in and the children swarm, wanting to hear all about the adventure.  So Berlin speaks to her breathless audience.

“I could have died.  It was a paperclip someone bent up like a SWORD!  It went into my shoe and stabbed my toe.  You know, it could have gotten into my bloodstream and I would have been poisoned.  I could be poisoned now because it poked me!  I could be dead tomorrow!”  A collective gasp rises from her audience, “I could have tripped on it and it could have gone into my spine, then I might have died!  At least it could have poked me in the eye and blinded me!  I’m a lucky girl.” 

Berlin nods her head slowly and looks off into the distance.  The girl can work it.  Thank goodness Mrs. First Year broke it up.  The classmates all reached in to hug their nearly departed friend and all was well in second grade.  Until next time.  Life itself is the greatest adventure.


My Lord and Tailor

God shifts gears.  For years after I became a Christian, Noah’s Ark was my favorite story because at the end a passionate God says, “Maybe I went a little far – I just love you so much!  I will never do THAT again.”  Then He gives us a little visual gift, the simplest way that he has to communicate with us.  He shifted gears so we could move forward and continue in our relationship.  That a supernatural being would do this should strike awe in our hearts.  To me, God became approachable and trustworthy in that moment that He was fragile.

A lesser known, but perhaps more poignant example of God’s gearbox occurs in Genesis, the third chapter of our creation.  God has just cursed the serpent, cursed Eve, and cursed Adam.  In those verses, it seems as though He has washed His hands of this creation.  His words are fierce with even fiercer implication…in essence, he destines the serpent to wallow in lowliness.  He lays the gauntlet and tells Eve to get ready – everything she wants and needs for her family will be a fight.  Adam, he says, will work until he dies – a new concept – just to eat.  These curses resonate through the generations with an echo that will not be stilled.

However, right after this tirade, after the world is forever changed and God’s plan is thwarted by the disobedience of His children, he downshifts.  He sits down with them and makes clothing out of skins (Genesis 3:21).  He had banished them from the Garden of Eden and he could have banished them from His presence, but He did not.  Instead, He put that behind them so they could prepare for a new and decidedly different future.  This is a pure and beautiful model for a family whose dreams are waylaid.  When our children are born, we have a clearcut vision of how life will be.  Today, I think most of our vision comes from the media but still, there are values that will be passed down.  Wisdom these children will carry into adulthood.  We are certain that our children will not make the mistakes we made.  

But then they do.  Then we have adjustments to make.  We have anger to work through.  We have resentment.

Unfortunately, while we resent and adjust and “work through” our anger, the world keeps moving.  All of that takes such precious time and much is lost in that time.  Imagine what a closer bond could be forged if we sat down and made clothes, stitching together the changes to come.  Of course this can’t be easy.  Even for God, this was a sacrifice.  The clothes were made from skin.  This is significant because until now, there had not been death in the Garden of Eden.  In fact, death wasn’t part of the plan.  Surely God did not want to destroy any piece of His creation, especially to mollify His children’s disobedience.  But He did it.  AND THEN he sent His children away prepared, nurtured, and loved.  Loved but not alone.

Something else happened during this chain of events.  As God set forth his curses, Adam matured.  Right afterwards, before they made clothes, Adam named his wife.  He named her Eve, “because she was the mother of all the living (Genesis 3:20).”  I can imagine this…God is mad, completely fired up, and he unleashes this curse.  The curse is really more of a “now look what you’ve done” kind of statement because God is not being cruel, he is just outlining the consequences of their actions since they will no longer have access to the Tree of Life.  Of course, that part he leaves out until all is said and done.  After this, Adam sheepishly comes to God and strikes up a conversation, the kind that you had with your parents and now your children have with you, the confession.  He tells him what he learned from what he did and God feels good that His child may be responsible after all.  Then, Adam gets to the point.  He realizes that they are it and he and his wife have been charged with great responsibility.  For the first time, he looks at his wife as a partner for the work ahead, not just a companion, and he respects her.  Then he gives her a name borne from all of this understanding.  This is when Adam grows up.

I have a teenager.  She is wonderful, brilliant, beautiful, and has the brightest future I can imagine.  In her I can see the fruition of so many dreams long abandoned.  I desperately want her to stay on track to be wildly successful and happy beyond measure.  In my heart, though, is tucked this story.  There is no doubt that our family will shift gears in the next ten years.  Happiness to her may mean something completely different than it means to me.  Choices will be made.  Hers is not my life to live.  I just hope that we can sit down and make the right clothes when it happens.

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