Pierced Ears and Yellow Stars

We’re charting for piercings over here.

Explanation: We’ve been doing behavior/chore charts. Stars add up to tickets. Tickets add up to…Ear Piercing!!!!!

I run from behavior modification systems.  I resist the structure. I feel confined and suffocated and have only about 3 days of routine in me. After that it’s “Yellow Stars for Everyone! Let’s go get ice cream!”

I  have also always operated under the assumption that we should all do what we are supposed to do. Just do it. If you don’t know what you are supposed to do, ask me, and I will gladly tell you. Outside motivation not necessary. There’s just stuff you should be doing anyways. 

But as Sophia will grudgingly inform  you, “In a family of four kids it’s not just about me.” The system that works for me (assumed understanding and adherence to familial and societal expectations of behavior) does not work for everyone.

The charts have not been without  frustrations (and hazards as I daily scoop yellow stars out of the baby’s mouth) but the benefits have been undeniable.

“They need to know you see them. They need to hear you see them.” These were the words of My Sister the Therapist. We were walking across the campus of James Madison University after seeing our brother graduate. I was trying to figure out what to do with the scene in my house, and baffled by these purple-cloaked graduates who at some point learned to navigate life’s challenges without screaming, stomping and tears. That morning they had picked out their own clothes and gotten dressed. How in the world do you get a child from here to there?

But Ruthie’s words struck me. Some of us need research, or statistics, or peer influence – I need a strong literary metaphor. The idea of seeing weaves through the most indelible scenes in my favorite faith stories:. Les Miserables: To love another person is to see the face of God. Blind Bartimeaus: Rabbi, I want to see. And my favorite name of God still is the one given him by the outcast and abused servant girl, Hagar: “El Roi. The God who sees.” When I feel broken and alone, I pray to The God who Sees.

I needed a way to see my kids. When charts stopped being about rewards and about seeing, I was in. Still not great at it but all in.

We now line up morning and night and go down the chart. Stars are slapped on for making beds, and not whining, and not yelling and encouraging each other. They count stars and then they count tickets and I’m no longer concerned that its modeling a false system for actions that should be character driven. Our charts are about noticing each other.

What has surprised me the most though has been how the charts provide a grid through which to run my own behavioral patterns. When things go south, chances are that I did what I do best: I was inconsistent. I threw out a first time expectation and was rigid about it. I rushed them or yelled. I assumed everyone was following a set of rules that I forgot to post. I did not slow down to see.

I’m beginning to think the chart isn’t even about progressing, as we triumphantly drive over to that Purveyor of FIne Jeweled Goods, The Icing, some time next week to participate in a ritual the Puerto Ricans do at birth. (My mom got newborn earrings for each of my babies. I think they might actually  pierce in utero in the Homeland. ) “We  need to come up with a new goal now,” they say and I start my chart-anxiety-sweating  all over again. “No, no this is stuff you are supposed to be doing anyways” sneaks out of my mouth, once more. I stop.

We do need a new goal, because I need yellow stars a little bit longer to remind me to see and celebrate them, You know, what I should be doing anyways. 

This is the chart we are using. It’s not cheap so if you’re crafty or happen to own construction paper and stickers go for it. This one is high quality and reusable and comes with tons of options and blank magnets as well.  It’s store bought fanciness made it exciting for the girls. What can I say? We’ll chart about being into store bought fanciness next month… 

Balloons, Birthdays,and Other Thoughts

It’s been an intense couple of months. Not intense in the roller coaster riding, marathon training, dark chocolate sort of way. Intense, in the my- life doesn’t- seem -to -be -working- anymore, -and I don’t -know -how -to make- it -work -again, and – I’m -making- jokes -about -that – but deep down I’m sad -and -tired- and- dreading- the -nights, -the days- and -definitely -all- the -meals-sort-of-way. My prayer world had become three prayers really, “Please don’t let them remember this year.” and “Please don’t let me remember this year.” and “Please don’t let any other year be like this.”

Travis intervened. “You don’t seem to be doing very well.” Now, here’s a mystery: Why, when asked, am I quick to dump my hardships on another, but when intervened on, am very very offended? It’s as if I want to proclaim  “My soul is withering away” and have someone respond, “Get out of town!!! You appear to be totally thriving!” If I’m going down, I’m going down with the public fooled.

Except no one was fooled. And in case you think you are the Expert Public Fooler, hang out with an 8 year old for ten minutes. They cannot be fooled. Ever.

The day after The Intervention, I was scheduled to speak for a Mothers of Preschoolers (MOPS) group. I was fragile and as always, out of time, so I went to a familiar text and stood before these beautiful women and retold the meeting of Jesus with the disciples on the Road to Emmaus, in Luke 24.

Even as I spoke I was overcome by the story of two people, choosing to run away from Jerusalem, a place of grief and disappointment over the crucifixion, just when Jerusalem was becoming the scene of resurrection.

They let their disappointment push them away from the places God was making new and their unmet expectations keep them from seeing Jesus, risen, standing right before them.

“We had hoped…” is the line that haunts me. They say it to Jesus, describing what all of us carry around birthday to birthday: it wasn’t supposed to look like this. I was supposed to be better than this. Life was supposed to be different, easier, cleaner, more glamorous.

These unnamed friends of Jesus are so lost in their grief over how they think things should have been and what He should have done, that they don’t see Him standing in front of them. They don’t recognize Him until He’s gone.

But when they realize it was Him, they stop running and they go back. Back to their community, back to where they belong, to the work God was doing in Jerusalem and the work that is before them.

The last few weeks have been about me going back – and figuring out what that looks like. I’m leaning into people more, asking for help and wisdom and actually listening. I’m working through what solutions and structures we need, what habits I need to pursue, and what I need to eliminate. Less screens, less stores, more writing,  more select voices, more select reading.

I have a Henry Cloud quote posted above my desk. It reads “You are ridiculously in charge of your life.” I can’t miss the fact that said desk is currently covered with other people’s stuff. Regardless, I love this quote. Somedays it’s just the reminder I need that I have other options besides complaining. But in its fullness, it points to the truth that this life, exhausting, non-hypoallergenic, haphazard, ridiculous, painful, exasperating and overflowing is the one in front of me.

In this life, God is doing new things and calling me to participate, and in this life, He stands in the midst.

Happy Birthday to Me. Thanks Mom. Onward.