And a Jar of Marbles

We had a baby dedication at church. It was nice, different from the usual ones I've seen, where at some point during the usual church service, the families come up, the pastor says a few words, everyone sings "Jesus Loves the Little Children," you get your Bible and sit down. Sound familiar?

This one took place on a Saturday and the chairs in the sanctuary were out, replaced by round tables. We'd all been encouraged to invite friends and family, people who would be instrumental in the raising of our child. The room was bursting at the seems and full of happy noises, babies crying, siblings whispering, good life sounds.

We listened to an older couple talk about parenting. Having successfully raised three well-functioning children into adulthood, they had their credibility. One thing that I've been reminded of time and time again stood out. Parenting is hard, of course. But people make out the baby year to be the hardest. You have a squalling, entirely dependent being plopped into your life who has major needs but no way of communicating those needs short of yelling at you at full volume. You lose sleep. You do laundry 47 times per week. You think about your pre-baby life in disbelief. And yes, the baby year is hard, no doubt. But it's not parenting. It's survival - for you and your baby. That's all you're doing. You're instilling love through your gentle hands and loving responses to that terrorist child's every need. But it's not parenting.

Parenting kicks in a few years later, when the choices you make and the responses you have to your child will set them down the path towards success or the therapist's office. And half the time you don't know which path you're on.

I was talking to a mom of one of Violet's classmates. She asked me how the summer was going and I told her the whining around our house was EPIC. "I know," she sympathized. "I just keep telling myself it's a phase, it's only a phase." And while that might be true, that all things do indeed pass, I feel like my reactions to the whining are crucial. Giving in, standing firm, yelling, responding with loving patience, ignoring it - there are so many choices, and I really want my reaction to be the drop in the bucket of a kind, respectful person. I'm growing a human being over here! God forbid the way I respond the 83rd time she asks to watch another My Little Pony episode in a screeching voice that could cause a dog to chew its own leg off be the one response that tips her over the edge towards being a horrible, snotty, self-absorbed, entitled brat when she's 14. (Although the teenage years might be a lost cause.) This is parenting, people!

At the baby dedication, each family got a huge jar of marbles. (Cue the "losing your marbles" jokes.) There was one marble to represent each week of our child's life from birth until they turn 18 and (presumably, God-willing, here's hoping) graduate high school and move away to college. That's 936+ marbles, just to save you math nerds some time. And yes, it's a lot of marbles. But every week you remove one. And slowly the pile will dwindle. The tagline is: Count your weeks, so you can make your weeks count. This is it. This is the amount of time we have as parents to imprint our child with the values, habits, traditions, we want them to carry forth with them into the world. It's a good visual reminder that what we do this week will matter over time. Thank God there are so many marbles in case this turns out to not be my best week ever!

Losing my marbles!

Part of the prep for the baby dedication service was coming up with five core values we wanted to focus on as a family. I had to google "core values list" because I wasn't even sure what it meant (and to think, we're already on our second child! Eek! Talk about playing catch up!) There were the obvious love and faith and generosity. But I had an easier time picking traits I don't want my kids to have. I want them to have whatever the opposite of laziness is. (Diligence?) I want to instill in them the opposite of entitlement. (Gratitude?)

The other part of our homework before the service started was coming up with two family habits that would help us grow these values. Clearly these values need to be modeled. They need to be taught in a hands-on, real-world way. We need to talk about them. We need to use the big words, show the big picture. We need to explain why we love others, why we share what we have. I'll be honest, it's scary and exhausting to think of all the work that goes into growing responsible citizens of this world.

We'll take it one marble at a time.

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