Friday, May 18, 2012

To Be Like My Children

Lately I have witnessed so many amazing characteristics in my children; characteristics that are not exactly hereditary, but rather a product of innocence, that I can't help but want to be more like them.

It's weird to think about that. As we grow up, most of us want desperately to be like our parents at some point in our lives, and parents, I believe, relish that. I watch as Chastity puts on my shoes and wants to wear my make up. Elijah pretends he's a student like Daddy and always talks about going to school. They love us so unconditionally in this moment, and they want to be like us. What they don't know, is that I want to be like them.

Matthew 18:3 says, "And he said, 'I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.'" This was a response to the question the disciples posed to Jesus asking, "Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?" I have heard multiple sermons on this topic, and they have all addressed the fact that children have unbelievable faith and the ability to humble themselves in that faith. I witness that in every aspect of my days. I can tell the children anything and they believe me. This might give some parents a power trip, but it makes me more careful. I have yet to even broach the subject of Santa or the Easter Bunny. They talk about them because they hear about them on TV, in books, and from other people, but it's a topic I don't know how to discuss. I LOVED believing in Santa. It made Christmas so magical, but I also remember the first Christmas when I knew he wasn't real. I was devastated and depressed. I don't know that I want, even for a second, my children to feel that way or to think that I lied to them, because then what will they think about the stories I've told them about Jesus?

What I haven't heard in sermons are all the OTHER reasons we should strive to be like children, but I am a witness to it every day.


Before we moved, I told Elijah and Chastity that we had to get rid of some toys. It's amazing how many toys they've collected over the years. Their beds were covered with stuffed animals, and the toy box not only couldn't be closed, but there were toys stored in the living room, under their beds, and in their closet. We did not need to move all of those toys. It didn't phase Chastity. I don't think she fully understood what I was saying, and she didn't care to, but Elijah became very upset. I cringed, not knowing exactly how to explain it.

"See, Elijah, the church is having a rummage sale. If we give some toys to them, they can sell them to little boys and girls who can't afford brand new toys. Most of your toys are in great condition, and other children might really like to have them. They might not get new toys to play with on Christmas and birthdays like you do."

That was the end of that. "Mommy, can I help you give toys to the kids?" He was actually excited. We finished dinner and I went to the basement to get a box for the toys we'd be taking to the church. With every step, Elijah wanted to make sure I wouldn't do it without him. Of course I wouldn't have anyway. The whole point in telling him about it was that I did not want to be that mom who just got rid of his toys without his permission. However, I was still concerned that he would have difficulty picking toys to give away.

I remember preparing for yard sales when I was much older than Elijah is now. My sister, Kristin, and I had a large toy room. We had a lot more space for toys than Elijah and Chastity have, but every so often we had to go through things to get rid of. Kristin and I were easily distracted. With each toy we found, it didn't matter how long we'd gone without playing with it, we'd sit there and play with our long lost toy as though it was a present we just opened. I can remember my parents finally coming in, shaking fingers in our faces, "If you don't pick out toys to get rid of, we're going to do it for you!"

I expected to eventually have to threaten the same thing. Elijah beat me to his room. I carried a large box in and decided I'd be happy if it were half full when we were done. We began sorting through toys. Chastity was slightly distracted, but she still responded honestly when I'd ask her, "Keep, or give away?" Elijah plucked out toy after toy with great discernment. The box filled up and was overflowing. A few of his newest toys I even had to convince him to keep! His attachments to these material things were much less than my own, as I watched memories of him growing and learning land hard in the box of give aways. But even through my sadness, I had to admit, he was perfectly honest. The toys he rarely ever played with were the ones in the box, and those that he played with regularly went back into the toy box. When all was said and done, the toy box was the box that was half full, and Elijah asked, "Can I come with you to give them to the kids?" He got up early on a Saturday morning, helped me for hours at the church rummage sale, and never even flinched when another child or family walked out of there with one of his toys. I was amazed.


Elijah and Chastity fight like any young siblings might. They sometimes have issues sharing with each other, and they occasionally are even tired and grumpy enough to hit one another, but they are still best friends.

Chastity became mad the other day because Elijah was riding on her bike. We've recently moved and all the bikes are in the living room because we have no storage space. Chastity had the right to be mad. Elijah has two bikes, a big wheel he got for his 2nd birthday and a Lightening McQueen bike he got for his 4th birthday. Chastity only has one, used Fisher Price trike. He knows she can't reach the petals on either of his bikes, and so I believe he gets on hers just to tease her a bit from time to time. He refused to get off her bike, and as I turned around to Chastity's screaming, I watched her smack him in the face. I didn't have to say a word. Elijah's chin started to tremble. She didn't hit him that hard, but his feelings were visibly hurt. Chastity immediately knew she was in the wrong (she's two! How is it that I don't have to intervene?!), and her face softened. "Sorry, Lijah!" she said, still somewhat yelling. "It's okay!" he replied, still somewhat crying. I felt I still had duties as a parent, and so I set them aside explaining to Elijah that he shouldn't take her bike, but telling Chastity that she still shouldn't hit. Within five minutes, they were on their own bikes, racing around, playing and pretending as if nothing had happened.

That is only one example, but I could tell you of a number of times their tempers got the best of them, they instantly apologized, even hugged each other without prompting, and picked up right where they left off. Children have this amazing ability to forgive the way that Jesus calls us all to forgive.


So...the ability to adapt is not actually a virtue, nor is it really all that impressive, but some of the things we've thrown at our children have been received in the most cheerful ways imaginable. Things have not always (hardly ever) gone my way in my life. I am ashamed to admit that I have not always handled things the way I should have. Jesus doesn't call us to be happy only when things go our way, and children are often the least likely representative of those who don't throw fits when things don't go their way, but you'd be surprised how well they can handle change.

I realized the other day that in Elijah's less than five years of life, we have moved five times, and lived in three different states. In Chastity's less then three years of life, we have moved three times. Each move has been more difficult than the last. Each move takes more of my time away from them in cleaning, organizing, and creating a new home. Each move has created incredibly long days for each of them, yet they have embraced the changes cheerfully. During this last move, we had to spend our first night on the floor. Jelani and I had an air mattress, but the kids slept in their unfurnished bedroom, in complete darkness (night lights hadn't made the move yet), in sleeping bags. They could not have been more thrilled. You might say, "Well of course! Kids love a sleep over!" but my kids know nothing of sleep overs, and I promise you, it was not a night of sleep that I, as an adult, was all that thrilled about, and I had an air mattress.

Perhaps the tantrum throwing reputation adults tend to give young children is a little misunderstood, or maybe, off the mark entirely.

What I'm trying to say, is that adults should be striving to be more like children in many more ways than the popular sermons address!

Try as I might to adapt happily to changes thrown my way, I am never as cheerful about it as my children.

I have always tried to be a forgiving and understanding person. I like knowing and trying to understand all sides of a story. However, I have never been able to let go of things as quickly as my children, let alone move on in that relationship as though nothing has ever changed. I think most adults tend to hold onto some of the bitterness, keeping themselves from ever again being close to that person who hurt them. 

As generous as I try to be, I have never been as generous as Elijah was on that day a few weeks ago with his toys. I am not even as generous with my time as he was with his treasured toys.

This all brought me to a revelation. I'm not very brilliant, and I'm probably not the first to stumble upon this, but I thought perhaps this whole world would be a lot better off if parents tried desperately to be more like their little children, rather than the other way around.


Wednesday, May 9, 2012


We recently moved into a three bedroom town home. This is the largest living space we've had since owning our own home in North Carolina 4 years ago. However, it has the smallest kitchen I've ever had, with the least amount of shelves and cupboards and zero storage. There is no attic, no basement, no garage, and no pantry.

And so, I have found myself sorting through boxes of memorabilia; our entire living room, ironically overflowing with our entire lives.

Among the rubble, I found a box labeled "Videos." I had gotten rid of most of my movies on VHS and replaced them with DVDs a long time ago, so what was in the box was mostly recordings of things I had taped from TV along with some of my college videos I made during my brief stint as a media studies major. I decided to start popping them in to find out what the unlabeled ones were, figure out which ones worked, and decided which ones were worth keeping. One of the first ones I discovered was a highlight video my dad had put together for me my freshman year of college. It had all of my most memorable clips from my high school games my last two years. I had been struggling with confidence my first year at UB, and I wasn't playing like myself. He wanted to remind me of what I could do. I discovered that the tape worked, only I couldn't bring myself to stop it. What can I say. I loved the glory days.

Now most of you, whether you are a sports fan or not, have gotten some glimpse of Sports Center/ESPN highlights at one time or another in your life. They are typically 5 to 10 seconds long, showing the final, awesome outcome of a play. So you are probably thinking that I sat down to watch play after play of my awesomeness, and if you know anything about my game, you're probably wondering just how many three pointers one can watch over and over without being completely full of themselves. Well, that is not how my dad puts together a highlight reel. In fact, many of the highlights have to be watched over again just to figure out what he was trying to highlight. To learn to spot the things my dad considers a highlight, you need to be able to think like a basketball coach. And not just any coach, but a coach who has studied the game most of his life. At first glance, this highlight tape is laughable. There are missed three point attempts, missed free throw attempts, and clips where I downright fall on my face. Several clips are minutes long, encompassing entire plays filled with mistakes and one itty bitty triumph. My dad doesn't just look for the final outcome of a play. He looks at the play in its entirety praising the work that leads up to the awesomeness.

I'll never forget the first time I watched that tape. He mailed it to me, and when I had the chance, I sat down in my dorm room to watch it. I remember calling him and asking him why there was a clip of me missing free throws. The camera had just scanned the scoreboard. It was a tied game and I choked at the free throw line. His response was simple. "Did you see the hustle from Allison to tie up the ball and get it back into our possession?" I watched it again. My teammate Allison, hustled after the rebound of my missed free throw, gaining the ball back for our team. That play eventually led to a basket by me soon after.  In another clip I completely brick a three pointer, but what my dad wanted to highlight was how I hustled after my own rebound, got the ball back, and dished for a three pointer by my teammate, Kristen.

One particular clip is nearly 5 minutes long. He highlighted the entire end of a game we had against Athens. It was a game we had been losing. We were even down by 22 more than half way through the third quarter. My dad told me he couldn't edit out the end because of the incredible team effort that brought us back into that game. It's funny. Looking back on the video, when Athens takes a time out with only about 3 or 4 minutes left in the game, the camera angle shows the scoreboard as well as our team jogging toward the bench. You can tell we are tired; we look almost defeated. My dad, our coach, had to point up to the scoreboard to show us, "You are only 4 points down!" We had been chipping away, and working our butts off, and had no idea we'd even come back into the game, and the camera captured that moment. We went on to win that game with a buzzer beater, but I will never forget my dad's chosen highlight of the game. It wasn't my nearly half court shot that won the game, or the steal I had a few plays before that led to a layup, or even the three pointers hit in the second half by myself, my sister, and Tiffany. The play when I stole Athens pass to go on to score and tie up the game, there's a quiet hero. It happened so quickly, it was a play only my dad could see. While Athens was getting ready to inbound the ball, Kristin, my little sister, denied her player the ball so hard, that the inbounder had to throw it over her head to try to get it inbounds. That is the pass I picked off, but that is not my highlight. If not for Kristin's hard work, and her determination in not letting their best player catch the ball, that steal wouldn't have even been an option.

Contrary to popular opinion in my home town, my dad did not care about my personal statistics. It didn't bother him if another teammate outscored me. He wanted me to be successful, sure, but success to him wasn't how many three pointers I could hit, or how many fast break layups I could get. He taught me that the success was in the hard work, and the only score that mattered was the one on the scoreboard at the end of the game. My dad was never disappointed with any one of us for missing shots. He was only ever disappointed by a lack of effort.

Basketball has taught me a lot of life lessons, as silly as that may sound, and this last one grasped me as I was reliving the glory days yesterday, on a living room floor cluttered with the highlights of my life. The highlights are more than just the triumphs and more than just the final outcome. They involve more than just one player, and more than just one play. The highlights, and some of the most memorable moments are in the plays leading up to the success, and in the support you get from your team, leading to the victory.

I will likely remember every potty training accident my children ever have. We don't quickly forget cleaning up poop with our own two hands. But without those moments, the moments we've tried and failed, the moments we've fallen flat on our faces and found ourselves in a pile of poo, what would that final victorious, mess-free, moment on the potty mean. 

Jelani graduates this weekend to become a Physical Therapy Assistant. What would that even mean to our family if we hadn't gone through years of struggles and hard work, lay offs, and financial pressures? Not to mention the fact that we wouldn't even be here without the help of some very important teammates of ours; our family.

Sure, the highlights are great. Everyone loves a slam dunk and a three pointer or two, but don't forget the plays and the players which have led you to that glorious moment. That is where the truly unforgettable highlights can be found.