Cell Phone Snark and Hooey

Ah, Facebook, bringer of all things controversial. It’s where I stumbled across this article, which, frankly, seemed so silly that I would normally have ignore it, except that apparently the APA isn’t ignoring it. And it was on Time.com. You know Time Magazine, that bastion of factual information and intelligent writing… or maybe I’m dating myself.

Anyway, the premise of the article is that mom and dad spend too much time on their phones when they should be hanging out with junior, and that frequent cell usage makes you a worse parent. It’s hard to take parenting advice from a journalist whose opening sentence (for Time!) ends in a dangling preposition, but there is a valid point to be made here. According to the article, researchers from Boston University took to fast-food restaurants and observed the interactions of parents and children.

To study the effect of smartphones, Radesky and her colleagues sent in undercover investigators to surreptitiously observe any adult-child grouping with more than one youngster as they ate at a fast-food restaurant. The observers recorded the behavior of both the adults and the children in 55 such groupings, as well as how frequently the adults used their smartphones.”

So, basically, they snuck around on people, recorded their behavior without permission, and then published it in this study. I’m not sure what the ethics are on that, but I can tell you I’ll be nicer to my kids the next time we hit up McDonald’s. Also, the ‘undercover investigators’ bit makes me leery. Why weren’t Radesky and her colleagues doing the observing? The article continues:

“The data provided an unvarnished look at how absorbed many parents were by their devices. One child reached over in an attempt to lift his mother’s face while she looked down at a tablet, but to no avail. Another mother kicked her child under the table in response to the child’s various attempts to get her attention while she looked at her phone. A father responded in curt and irritated tones to his children’s escalating efforts to tear him away from his device.”

Here’s the thing – it takes a lot more than Candy Crush to get a woman to kick her child. This is one of those chicken and egg situations. Do cell phones make people ignore their children, or do people who ignore their children use cell phones? Just this evening I was sitting on my front step with, yes, my phone, reading an article. My four year old was building with bricks nearby. He would call me, and I would look up and interact with him, then go back to my phone. It’s easy to point to cell phones as the reason for bad parenting. It’s much harder to address the character flaws – laziness, selfishness, lack of self-control, a temper – that are the real issue. But of course, the ‘researchers’ weren’t finished.

“In light of the data, Radesky is working with the American Academy of Pediatrics to develop some guidelines for the smart smartphone use in front of the kids — just as the academy has advice for parents on TV viewing.”

Because of course the answer to every problem is intervention and rules set by professionals. One rather sneaky study, with a very small sample group, and no background information on the subjects, seems shaky ground to make these vast claims. I’m not saying parents should choose cell phones over their children! For heaven’s sake, I’m the first one to say that we should all go back to the analog age. I’m saying that we’ve got to stop grabbing at what’s easy if we want what’s best. It’s called “ignoratio elenchi” – the argument addresses the issue, but it still isn’t logically valid. It’s more frequently known as ‘missing the point’. My smart phone doesn’t make me a good or a bad parent. My smart phone isn’t the bad guy. As I’ve already mentioned, there is a valid point to be made here. I just think we’re missing it.

Joy and Laundry

Having a large family is a lot of things. It’s chaotic, yes, but also peaceful. It’s loud and sometimes quiet. It is very messy but.. okay, it’s very messy. I often find that people who ask me about raising six kids have a polarizing idea about what it is – it must be either ethereally joyful or insane. The answer is.. yes!

And since a picture is worth a thousand words, I thought I’d snap some and share with you what life in a family of 8 is like. All these pictures were taken between 4 and 5 on Thursday afternoon with no staging. I promise!


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Coffee. My best friend.

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Yes, it’s 4:30pm and lunch is still on the table.

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I would be ashamed, but this is actually pretty good for us.

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Teenagers do not like their photos taken. Unless they are selfies.

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And, in an effort at brutal honesty, one of me. Today was a no-makeup, no shower day. But it isn’t always like this!

Also, you people who take selfies and post them on the internet? I thought you were silly, but you are BRAVE. I think I took ten of these before I got one I was okay with.

I look so weird! And I like my face!

So go forth, mama, and know that your life and your house and your face are lovely. Even if there are dishes in the sink.

The Crazy Person’s Guide to Moving

This week marks a momentous occasion. We closed on our house last Friday and will spend the week packing and hauling and breaking things in our eleventh move in fourteen years. Yes, you heard that right. Eleven moves. Fourteen years. So I’m kinda like an expert on this.

Since I’m such a pro, I thought I’d endow upon you some tips I’ve learned on How to Make Your Move Go As Smoothly As Possible.

Tip #1 – Decide on Thursday afternoon to have a garage sale.. on Friday. Because the neighbor is having one and has already put up signs, and not having to put up signs is SUCH a time and work savings that it makes the crazy garage sale prep at the last minute totally worth it.

Tip #2 – Make sure that said Friday is also walk-through and closing day. Two birds, one stone. Something like that.

Tip #3 – Friday should also be grocery shopping day. Obviously you won’t have time to go grocery shopping, so you can just skip it. You managed to avoid grocery shopping! Well done. Dominos delivers, so you’ll be fine. Bonus: hire a truck for Saturday to take the non-essentials. This way you won’t have time to go grocery shopping Saturday, either. Your local McDonald’s will thank you. 

Tip #4 – To occupy the young children in the house while you’re packing, leave some Bingo dotters lying around. You know the ones that are full of runny, permanent ink with the huge spongy dotter on the end? The ones that splat satisfyingly when you slam them down onto cardboard? Yeah, those. Leave those out right next to a stack of new boxes. The children will be thrilled and will leave you alone for at least half an hour. You don’t really need those Bingo markers anyway (they’ll be pretty well ruined by the slamming). Or those boxes. Or that.. carpet.

Tip #5 – Pack up ALL the children’s books a week early, seal the boxes and drop them of at the new house on the first run. This way they’re as inaccessible as possible. The three year old will not understand why there are suddenly no books in the house. There will be weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth. But it’s worth it because three more boxes will be at the new house.

Tip #6 – For homeschoolers only (sorry): Don’t schedule any time off of school during the move. Of course you can do a full six hours per day of academics, host the co-op and go on a field trip during the week of the move.

Tip #7 – Happily agree to a four-day business trip for your husband the week before the move AND do all of this while six months pregnant. It’s like the X Games, baby. The more extreme, the… more extreme.

So there you have it! Just a few tips to make your next move more.. exciting.

Off to pack!


Easter’s Not for Sissies

So… this post was supposed to come out yesterday, you know, on Easter. But my mouse ran out of batteries. Seriously. So here’s some post-resurrection reading for you. 

It’s Easter, and Easter at church means salvations. Every year hundreds of non or semi-Christians visit our churches and hear the message of salvation and redemption and come to the altar to receive Christ. We rejoice in this, because we love sharing our faith with others. We love adding new family members. We love the joy that comes from receiving the redemptive work of Christ and we rejoice with those who rejoice.

But there are plenty of people on Easter who are skeptical about all these salvations. They wonder if an ‘altar call’ is a genuine experience. They doubt the sincerity of those who feel a need for Christ when they’ve never felt that need themselves.

Coming to faith in Christ is like having a child. Before I became a parent I had an intellectual understanding of why people loved their kids. I knew that their love for their children was real, and I thought it was nice for them. I recognized that they felt so strongly they would lay down their lives for their children, but I had never experienced that feeling myself.

Then I had a child of my own. Suddenly the entire world was new. I experienced joys and sorrows of which I had been wholly unaware. I was seized with a passion for my child. Suddenly I could easily see myself laying down my life for her. I wouldn’t even hesitate; the pain of losing my child would so far outweigh the pain of death that thought wouldn’t be necessary, putting myself in harm’s way would be effortless. I now understood what real terror was – it was the thought of being separated from my child. Everything I did was for her benefit and when I failed her I felt ashamed – not because she, a tiny infant, made me feel ashamed, but because of my deep desire to do only what was good and right by her.

This is what happens to us when we come into relationship with God. He changes our very souls. We experience things that we had no idea existed. Our priorities and motives change. We are made new.

And the change is irrevocable. Much like having a child, we never go back to the way we were. If my children were all to pass away I wouldn’t go back to being a childless woman, I would always be their mother. I can’t undo the soul change that happened when each of them was born anymore than I can regain the 20 year old body I had before it housed them. I’m wrecked.

Which means that, like parenthood, Christianity isn’t something we can try on for size. Childless people might babysit for their friends as a way to see if they’re ready for children, and they’ll gain some understanding of the practical elements of caring for a child. But they’ll never experience the true nature of parenthood until they have fully committed; until they’ve conceived and carried and borne a child of their own. And by that time it’s too late to go back.

So it is with God. We can visit churches and read books to ‘try on’ Christianity to see if it fits, but we’ll never experience the immensity and power of newness in Christ until we are fully committed. And by that time it’s too late to go back. We will have been wrecked.

Simcha Fisher makes this observation about God’s mercy.

“The mercy of God comes in like a flood. Not a warm bath: a flood.”

“You can go back and salvage some of your stuff, but you will not be living in that house again.”

Today, on Good Friday, I find myself meditating on the old house of mine that God flooded. Because, again like childbirth, the entry into God’s family is sometimes painful. Certainly it was painful for Him. Dear God. And for us as well there will be things that are left behind. There will be things that we are required to surrender and things that we willingly and joyfully surrender. We place ourselves into a new category of people, with new priorities and requirements.

It is not a small thing, this conversion. It isn’t small at all.

It’s Holy Week!

There is so much to write about this week! There’s yet another vaccination brouhaha going down on Facebook and some parents of disabled kids are suing Disney – and boy, do I have something to say about that. But it’s Holy Week! So rather than be controversial, let’s talk about Jesus.

I normally like to do something Lenten around this time of year. It’s not required – we’re nondenominational Charismatics, which means we don’t really do liturgical. We like the new stuff! But I like to recognize this time of year. It’s important to focus on the reason for Easter – my own sin that brings destruction and darkness and the glorious act of God that wiped it all away. I think it’s important to meditate for a while on the death and suffering of Jesus. Otherwise I tend to just go, “Hey – thanks God! That was great. Well done. Time for ham.” Plus I like ceremony and tradition. There’s something warm and inviting about it – like a comfortable sweater on a chilly day. You put it on and all is right with the world.

So, generally I do give something up for Lent, as a reminder that He gave everything. I plan my Bible reading around the Gospels and I try to incorporate some kind of teaching into our school days so that my children begin to understand the significance of the holiday. We’ve done the kitschy stuff, too, the empty tomb cookies and whatnot.

This year, however, I’ve really only just realized that Easter is quickly approaching. When it first dawned on me, oh, three days ago, that I hadn’t done any kind of preparing for Easter – not even checking Pinterest! I felt awful. I began apologizing to God for ignoring the ceremonial and traditional ways of relating to the season.

Here’s the thing, though. One of the things that fascinates me most about Jesus is that so many people He came into contact with had no idea he was God. That tells me He was a pretty normal guy. He wore normal clothes and talked in a normal kind of way. He wasn’t self-important or overly intellectual. He observed the Holy Days of His faith, absolutely, but he didn’t stand on ceremony. He leveled with people. He met them where they were. And He loved normal, carnal kind of stuff.

Like food. I’m astonished how often Jesus is found eating, or talking about eating, or planning to eat, in the Bible. As the great C.S. Lewis points out, God loves matter. He made it.

So here’s what I’m grabbing onto this week – it may be a little late for elaborate lessons and meals, I’m not sure if I’ll get to a Good Friday service (though I’ll try) and I never did celebrate Lent in the traditional way, but I can still celebrate Christ Risen if I seize the normal moments that reflect Him. When I stand in the first sunshine of spring and enjoy the warmth on my face I can take a moment and breathe a prayer of thanks. When I am surrounded by my children I can remember that He is the one who gave them to me, and it’s His grace that gets me through each day of raising them. I can revel in the gift of prayer, even when it’s during dishes instead of in my special quiet time spot.

I can take a step toward Jesus every ordinary, normal, un-interesting day of my life. Here’s Pope Francis (yeah, he’s Catholic):

“I invite all Christians, everywhere, at this very moment, to a renewed personal encounter with Jesus Christ, or at least an openness to letting him encounter them; I ask all of  you to do this unfailingly each day. No one should think that this invitation is not meant for him or her, since “no one is excluded from the joy brought by the Lord”. The Lord does not disappoint those who take this risk; whenever we take a step towards Jesus, we come to realize that he is already there, waiting for us with open arms.”

This is what Easter is all about. In whatever way we celebrate it, it’s about taking a step toward Jesus and realizing that He is there, waiting, with open arms.

And.. We’re Back

This is awkward. 

 I’ve been away from blogging for three months (!) and jumping back in is more difficult than I thought it would be. I’ve spent the last few weeks vacillating over whether to just start up like there was no gap or explain what the heck I’ve been doing all winter. And then I realized that the last few months’ worth of activity is going to show up pretty clearly so I’d better lay it out there. 

In late December, we found out we’re expecting again! This is, of course, joyous news, but I am going to be brutally honest and admit that when we first found out, I was not happy about it. And I was shocked at not being happy about it. I believed I was open to having more kids, and I’d even wished for another one at various points, but the reality of it was a bit devastating. And then I felt guilty about feeling bad about it. And then there were the frequent episodes of vomiting and the need for 16 hours of sleep every day that accompany early pregnancy. Between the physical and emotional turmoil, blogging sort of fell through the cracks. 

So we’re due in August, it’s a girl, and everyone, including me, is absolutely thrilled about it. Even if we are still reeling a little bit. 

Then we found out that the house we’ve been living in since last June, that we were trying to purchase as a short sale, wasn’t going to happen. So we’ve been in the throes of house-hunting and are now facing yet another move. This time with me pregnant. Yay! But we found a house and have a closing date, so that’s great news! 

Then my dad was diagnosed with stage 4 non-small cell lung cancer. 

There really isn’t any good news to soften that one, at least not yet. He started chemo yesterday. It’s been quite the roller coaster ride, emotionally, especially since I’m apparently some kind of emotional retard. I spent the first week after getting the news trying to figure out what the heck was wrong with me and why I felt all weepy and scatter-brained all the time. Because my rational self couldn’t understand why my emotions would react to such news and, you know, affect my daily life. So it was kind of like waking up suddenly to find yourself on a roller coaster that’s already going full speed and not knowing where you are. 

I struggled with anxiety and depression. I didn’t feel like myself. Housework and parenting suffered. The weather sucked. There’s a reason filmmakers use weather to convey mood. 

And all winter long, as one hammer after another fell and my hormone-addled brain struggled to keep up with everything I felt it was impossible to write. I didn’t want to write about bad things! I want to be encouraging and positive! I kept waiting for myself to pick myself up and dust myself off and find the bright side. 

I’m realizing, though, that life simply isn’t always that way. There are seasons in which the bad seems to out-shadow the good, and pretending this isn’t so isn’t just untruthful, it’s wrong. Dark places are just as much a part of life as light. Walking through them is devastating, but can also add a richness and texture to life that makes the whole of it more worth living. 

And I missed it, the writing. 

So I’m back. I’m not going to promise that you’ll find encouragement and happy chirping and cupcake recipes. Some days there will be humor and joy, and some days there will not. Life is gritty sometimes, but we’re all in it together. We might as well admit it. 

As my 12 year old reminded me in a remark she made after watching Saving Mr. Banks, it’s good. I asked her if she liked the movie and she said that she did. “It was a good story. It wasn’t always a happy story, but it was really good.”

How We Ended Up in the Hospital but Everything is Okay

Friday’s forecast was 36 degrees. If you live in Minnesota, and it’s Christmas break, that kind of heat wave means only one thing – sledding. We rounded up some friends, headed to the biggest hill we know and spent a glorious hour exhausting ourselves in the sunshine.

You know how people say that when things go wrong, everything slows down? The world skids into slow motion? I don’t know what they’re talking about. It all happened incredibly quickly. And by ‘all’ I mean, almost nothing. A split second.

My daredevil five year old, Judah, was heading down the hill for the thirtieth time. A couple of the big kids were headed down on a giant inner tube 25 feet to his right. He veered right. They veered left. He hit a bump, lost his sled and hit the snow. No big deal; I may have mentioned he was a daredevil. Not two seconds later the inner tube hit the same bump and came down with sickening speed. Right on top of my boy’s head.

The moments right after an incident like this are hold-your-breath moments. You wait for the boy to get up and laugh or cry. But my boy just lay there in the snow. My husband ran down and carried him up the hill, limp and moaning. He wouldn’t open his eyes or answer questions. Give me a screaming, bleeding child any day; a limp, pale one is terrifying.

But we do not panic. My twelve years of parenting and four years as a 911 dispatcher have made my panic button near to inaccessible. My husband jogged off to the van and I told the kids to get the sleds together. We loaded up and decided where to go – there was an ER 10 minutes away. All the while I kept waiting for him to start crying, but he just lay in his daddy’s lap, quiet and pale, eyes closed. I spent the ten minute drive trying, mostly unsuccessfully, to get him to look at me. When his eyes were open they wouldn’t focus.

Once in the ER, we were met with a wonderful staff of nurses and a doctor who were all very friendly and non-panicky. I’m sure they see much worse on a regular basis. Their poking and prodding coaxed some life out of him and his crying was very reassuring. They quickly made the decision to send Judah to the Children’s Hospital in Minneapolis so that he could be assessed by their pediatric trauma department. He was IV’d and collared and strapped to a board – at which point he began yelling “I’m cold! I’m cold!”, which made me feel much better. Dad and Judah bundled off to an ambulance while I headed to the lobby to make phone calls. (Side note – this was the point at which I almost lost it. Panic button reached.)

Getting set for the ambulance.

Two hours, three stops to drop off children and a 35 minute drive downtown later found me sitting in another ER with my little boy sleeping on his monster wheel stretcher. He’d had two CT’s and some X-rays. He was still pale and limp, but each time the doctor came in he had good news – the X-rays were clear. The CT’s were clear. When he started to wake up they wanted him to pee in a cup, which he found horrifying.

About five hours after the accident he really started to come around, and even when he fell back to sleep it was the sleep of a tired boy, not the near unconsciousness of a head injury. He ate cookies and juice. He snuggled the stuffed dog the EMT had given him. Eventually we were given a room for the night (discharge was pending the pee he refused to give and his keeping down a meal). By dinner time he was asking for spaghetti and movies.

Feeling better!

And now he’s home. Perfectly fine, without even a mark. Irritated as all get out that he can’t jump on the bed and wrestle with his brothers. And I’m just unbelievably thankful.

I’m thankful to all the (hundreds!) of people who prayed and sent their love our way. I’m in awe of the support that was poured out for us. We have the most incredible group of family and friends anyone could ask for.

I’m thankful for an ER doctor who smiles and says, “He’s just a little more sleepy than I’d like to see.” instead of frightening us with medical jargon or remote possibilities of serious complications.

I’m thankful for nurses who, when I realized I didn’t have his insurance card, smiled and told me they didn’t care. And they really didn’t.

I’m thankful for the nice old lady in the lobby who watched my kids while I ran back and forth between them and the exam room.

I’m thankful for amazing friends who, despite the flurry of post-holiday activity, kept my kids for me at the drop of a hat. Happily. You make me cry. In a good way.

I’m thankful for God’s will, which is inescapable. While I drove to the hospital my mommy brain kept imagining worst case scenarios, but I realized that whatever was going to happen, I had no control over it. I could only walk through the circumstances of my life as best I could. Knowing that it was truly out of my hands and in His brought me a peace I can’t describe.

I’m thankful for hospital food. All hospitals should have good food, and one of the items on the menu should be clam chowder. Because when you’re adrenaline dumping, you really need comfort food and there’s nothing better than clam chowder.

I’m so thankful for my boy being healed and safe that I can’t think of any adjectives for it. Just a few days ago, an old friend from high school’s son had brain surgery to control a bleed that came from bonking his head on a bench. My child gets plowed by 150 pounds of person on a speeding tube and he doesn’t even have a bruise.  A concussion, sure, but he was spared what could have been a serious injury.

So tonight I’m hugging my babies and thanking God that they’re all whole and wonderful.


And one more thing. Someone recently said, “It’s better to be paranoid than dead.” But I don’t agree. Life is for living. Accidents happen and unnecessary risks should be avoided, but in a few weeks when we’ve gotten the ok, we’re going sledding again. On the big hill.