A year is a long time. I don’t remember many details from the first few months of the year, much less details of life last month. I offer this short list as a sampling of things I remember that have made an impression on me this year, things that have instructed or informed my opinions, my parenting and our life in general.
1. As my children mature and can handle back and forth discussion and conversation, I have learned to value family meal time around the table without distractions. Mealtimes offer no end to frustratingly teachable moments. Allow me to share about the Flower Fork.
In our collection of random stainless steel forks there are several with flowers engraved on the handle. Lil’ P (6) likes to grab the flower fork for her place setting and sometimes tell her sister Little Peanut (4) that there are no more flower forks and she has the last one. Typical childish dinner conversation. Today I almost threatened “next time you argue over the flower fork I’m taking it away!” That’s right, punish the fork and take a thing of beauty (from a child’s perspective) away just because two people are fighting over it. That’s not really the heart of the issue. I declined that approach and instead we had a parent-directed conversation – they have yet to roll their eyes when they see where the conversation is heading, so they happily participate – about coveting, jealousy, teasing, kindness, serving others before yourself and other such important truths, interwoven with the gospel. By the time they were done with the meal, which usually takes about ten minutes, we had had a productive discussion and their plates were clean. Now we can repeat that same conversation when they fight over the flower fork at our next meal. And the next, and the next, and the next. Fortunately, we have enough time in our day to work through such issues.
2. This year we moved across an ocean, at least the 6th time I’ve done so in my life. This year also affirmed what has been impressed upon me again and again – if you are a follower of Jesus, you have access to real family and fellowship almost anywhere you will travel or live. We connected with a church 40 minutes from our home and were welcomed the first Sunday as family. These are the people we spent Christmas with. This is our Romanian family. I visited an international English fellowship in Cyprus earlier this month and was fed spiritually by the preaching and encouraged by meeting other members of the worldwide fellowship of Christians. Even on vacation or across the ocean in a different culture, or even if the service is in a foreign language, the bonds of this fellowship are strong, like family. It is the bond of family.
3. It’s so easy for me to be critical of the role technology plays in the deterioration of face-to-face contact and relationship building, or how youth are consumed by their screens and addicted to the endorphin rush that comes with the ding of a text message, or how people carry their phone in their hand like its a part of their body instead of holding their child’s hand. BUT, this year I have also seen the impact smartphones have on keeping families tight across miles and oceans. I have written before about Romania’s fractured families. Adults leave their aging parents and the village of their youth to work abroad, sometimes leaving their own children behind. This is difficult and painful and is having negative effects on Romania’s social order. However, it warms my heart when I see a grandma in her field, head covered in a traditional scarf, pausing from her labor to answer a phone call from a daughter working in Sweden. Or a kid texting his mom who works as a housemaid in Italy. Or a wife face-timing her husband who works in construction in England. With access to cheap phones and great apps, families can stay connected in a way not possible even a few years ago.
4. We adopted two puppies shortly after we arrived in Romania. A week later, one of them died. The children were concerned and looked to us for how to respond in this tragedy.
When I was in grade school our lovable mommy mutt was hit by a car and I remember mourning for a year. I even wrote a poem about it. When this Romanian puppy died, I thought more about how I felt losing a dog in my childhood and added the old grief to this new, smaller grief. My husband responded similarly, compounding the grief with memories of dogs lost in his childhood. And the tears came.
But this was our children’s first experience with losing a pet, and with a pet we’d only had for a week at that. Our temptation was to cry big tears, releasing the grief and memories of pets of the past. If our children hadn’t been watching us intently, that’s what we might have done. Instead, we talked about grief and sadness, that it’s okay to cry if that’s how you’re feeling when your pet dies and yes, God does care about our animals too. They pondered this for a few minutes and, without the crying we had anticipated, we buried the pup. A few seconds later Lil’ P piped up, “Can we get a cat now?”
The dying pet experience taught me an important parenting lesson: In no small way, for better or for worse, children learn emotional responses from their parents.