Archive for It is What it Is

A blast from the past: On the Brighter Side of Puke

In honour of another round of vomitting in our house, I have re-posted a short piece that I had removed from my blog way back when it became “creationcarekids.” Some of you may have read it. To others it will be new. Either way, enjoy, for it is still as true today as it was when I first composed it.

            I’ll admit that today’s topic might not be for those with a weak constitution. But Parents, listen up. I personally do not enjoy these dastardly revolts of the gastro-intestinal system any more than the next person, but I’ve decided to find the silver lining around the dark cloud of virally-induced vomiting and diarrhea.

  1. A puking family member requires little to no food. This is a benefit when you consider that it costs at least $500 a month to feed a family of 5. That’s a savings of $3/day per person. The longer the puking lasts, the more savings will be realized.
  2. It’s a well-known fact that a recovering stomach requires chicken soup made from scratch. In most families, each member will get a turn hosting (and subsequently expelling) the gastro-intestinal viruses, but this is no problem when you’ve made soup from an entire chicken in your giant stainless steel canner. Best to get all the puking over with while the soup’s still good.
  3. There’s nothing like vomiting and diarrhea to get you to change the bed and wash your linens. Some of us aren’t as on top of changing the bedding as we’d like to be, so a good puke-soaking will straighten that right out.
  4. Your bathroom is never as clean as when there is vomiting and diarrhea going through the family. These messes are powerful motivators to clean up good and proper.
  5. You’ll probably notice a marked decline in energy levels in your house when one or more children feel nauseous. Take this time to sit down and make a phone call, because once that kid feels better, that may not happen again during waking hours.

I think I’ve adequately illustrated how vomiting and diarrhea are actually blessings in disguise. The key to survival is to brew up a big pot of coffee to get you through the next day on little to no sleep, and you will almost wish for the flu at your house. Well, I’ve got no plans today. Play-date, anyone?

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Alpha Male vs. Housecat

English: Papio hamadryas, alpha male

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If researchers were to place an alpha male wolf and a housecat in the same cage, what do you suppose they would find? Assuming the cat survives the first 24 hours, the researchers would probably find both animals in a severe state of agitation. The notion of placing two such creatures in a shared living environment is ludicrous, of course, which is why I’m scratching my head as to why God chose our family to conduct this little experiment.

 Today as I walked to school I found myself asking God this question. Why on earth would You have chosen to put Teddy and Sammy in the same family? I’m sure those who know our boys will agree that the animal comparisons are surprisingly accurate: our alpha male is the leader of the pack. A very social animal, this lead wolf is anything but a lone wolf. He feels that he bears the responsibility for justice in the family unit, and will enforce it in whatever way he sees fit. He is dedicated, loyal, and ambitious, although often misguided in his efforts to secure justice for all (primarily himself).

 Our housecat is soft and cuddly, often brushing up against us so that we’ll scratch him behind his ears. This is particularly true in the early mornings when he softly slips out of bed and seeks a warm lap to curl up in. When it comes to a sense of duty though, he is no match for the Wolf. He expends as little effort as possible to net the most advantageous result. A solitary animal, he is content to play by himself. He will hide away, occupying himself with paper fish and pouncing on the sneaky kitten that dares to interrupt his play. Luckily for the kitten, the Alpha Male is always on duty, seeking to mete out justice to the oppressed, with predictable results for all concerned. Scratched egos, ear-piercing screams, and teary faces abound.

 It’s been that type of day, I’m afraid. And yet, just when I was starting to despair of parenthood, I was handed some encouragement on a silver platter. First, Teddy’s piano teacher commented that, although he is a challenge to teach in many ways, he is a respectful student. Respect is one thing Daddy and I can do something about, so I will take that as a compliment and pass it on to Daddy when he and I can finally put our feet up tonight.

 Then his school teacher commented that he is very helpful in the classroom; one of the more cooperative children in the group. Although I’m completely perplexed by this elusive “spirit of cooperation,” I am not surprised by his helpfulness. I know my kid to be one to make himself available when he sees a need. Just today he was telling me that he and a friend had given up their recess in order to clean 40 markers. Apparently Teddy has offered his teacher that he will gladly stay inside with her the next time she’s not on yard duty and help her with whatever needs doing inside. That’s saying a lot for a kid whose favourite subject is recess.

 And finally, as we were walking home we passed two older boys: Justin Bieber and his friend, Justin, if I remember correctly. One of the self-assured young men casually tossed his empty pop can into the creek, even as he was standing not 5 feet from a trash can. Teddy looked from the boys to me, almost as if to say, “Alpha female, did you just witness this grave injustice? Because if I saw what I think I saw, integrity compels me to act now.” To my own shame I confess to hesitating. I imagined the conversation with the Justins to go about as well as a confrontation between me and a pair of raccoons: those cantankerous creatures know that there’s no gumption behind that club I’m pointing at their noses, and it’s mostly because I know I’d get in trouble with the Humane Society if I actually used it.

Teddy doesn’t know about ornery raccoons or the Humane Society. All he knows is that his Mama taught him that metal is not compost and someone, somewhere has to clean up this mess, so with all his 7-year-old bravado he stood up and said, “Why’d you do that?” At which point the boys turned around, surprised, and Teddy’s Mama was shocked out of her silence and gave them the what-fer. Kudos to my young alpha male. As difficult as he is to parent, this kid is going to make a great man.

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An Altered State of Mind

This is your 7-year-old’s brain:

 

This is your 7-year-old’s brain on drugs:

 

Ok, maybe not on drugs, but how else would one describe this altered state of mind? As I’ve noted in my previous post, 2012 is the year I try to figure out our 7-year-old. He is a boy who, quite literally, colours outside the lines. I have spent 7 years misunderstanding and being misunderstood, loving passionately and being passionately angry, being amazed at how his mind works and then being utterly perplexed by how his mind works.

 Take the two pieces of art above. Picture #1 was created by the very same child who created picture #2, except that the contexts in which they were created were vastly different. Picture #1 was done in school during art class, while picture #2 was done at Kids’ Club, a fun extracurricular program which includes gym-time and snacks. I’m pretty sure there are other activities, but they are completely irrelevant to our son. If I understand correctly, picture #2 was created after a rip-roaring time in the gym and a snack of gingerbread men, black icing, and 5 M&Ms (to represent the 5 smooth stones that took down Goliath. Look closely at the picture and you may recognize the notorious ogre).

 I used to think that art therapy and the like was a bit hokey, but after seeing this I’ve been converted. If this doesn’t describe the brain of a kid who’s mastered by his boundless energy, then I don’t know what does.

There are basically two types of people in the world: those who need some down-time after running around all day, and those whose energy levels sky-rocket as a result. I don’t need a shrink to tell me which kind of child we’re looking at every morning.

Getting him out of the building after Kid’s Club is the first challenge, because he spends his time running around the place like an excited puppy who can’t believe his owner has returned home. The difference is that our excited puppy doesn’t want to return home, because we have no regulation-sized basketball court in the basement.

Once home, it takes us a full 45 minutes to complete the non-story version of the bedtime routine, a routine that could be completed during a commercial break. Trying to talk him down from this frenzied state is like trying to reason with an agitated wolverine. You can try talking, but you’re probably better off getting out the tranquilizer darts.

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Cock Fights in the Chicken Coop

Cockfighting dsc01729

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One of the first songs I was introduced to in Mrs. Fairbairn’s music class as an awkward 11-year-old immigrant girl was “Let There Be Peace On Earth (and let it begin with me-e)” Being a sentimental little girl I loved the song, and sang it with all the hypocritical gusto I could muster. The truth was, the only peace in my corner of the earth that I could realistically effect was with my younger brother, and God only knows how often my dear mother bellowed, “TAKE IT OUT BEHIND THE CHICKEN BARN!” when she’d had her fill of our bickering. In keeping with the general temperament of my family of origin, the two of us fought loud and hard, and it drove my mother crazy. (We’re basically pale Italians that eat Borscht instead of Pasta, but otherwise proprietors over the same fiery temperament). Perhaps Mom secretly prayed for her grief to be visited on us when we too became parents.

Or maybe it’s the prayers of Oliver’s mother that have been answered (though, to be sure, that gentle soul would never wish grief on anyone). I am told he and his younger sister had some terrific battles as well, although their style of fighting was different. Apparently only his more vocal sister would scream while Oliver quietly taunted her, causing her to get the short end of the rod of correction more often than he did. That’s how his sister tells it, anyway. Prayers or no prayers, the sins of our youth have been visited upon us in our adulthood and we are now the frazzled parents presiding over two flavours of fighting: Teddy and Sammy fight like my brother and I did – loud and hard, while Sammy and Caleb fight like Oliver and his sister did, with one screaming at the top of his lungs while the other surreptitiously whips up his brother’s ire. The chickens have come home to roost, except we have no chicken barn to which we can drive the three of them when the battle gets too intense.

The experts tell us that sibling rivalry is a normal part of growing up. One author I read put it this way: if your husband came to you one day and said that he has enjoyed being married to you so much that he would like to take another wife, you wouldn’t be pleased. In the same way the Apple of Your Eye, your First-born, does not appreciate you introducing a sibling into his little world either. Neither will your Second-born appreciate the Third. In fact, it is quite likely that he will say things like, “I love Caleb a little bit, but I love Teddy millions!” or “Caleb can go live with another family now.” He may even talk about your family in terms that completely exclude that nasty youngest child who came to usurp his throne.

I don’t know where to pin the blame, but in the last few months conflict has been at an all-time high among our children. As anyone knows who has had to referee fights on a half-hourly basis (if not every five minutes) this results in a very, very cranky Mommy. A very cranky Mommy results in very cranky kids, who can stand each other even less than they could before, and so the cycle is perpetuated. Separation only works as long as they’re in their separate corners. When time-outs are over and life resumes, so does the fighting.

Short of proposing a child-swap with another family, we really feel like we’re at our whit’s end most of the time. Until this week when Focus on the Family’s Thriving Family Magazine arrived in our mailbox, and on the cover the headline, Can your Kids be friends? I tore off the plastic wrap and devoured the article immediately. Out of that article came a brand-new approach that we have tried with our two eldest with some measure of success. Most of my readers are probably already practicing this ingenious method of problem-solving with their children, but here it is anyway:

Step 1: put both parties in a time-out to give them a chance to cool down. Insist that you will not entertain any explanations (translation: tattling) at this time.

Step 2: without listening to either side of the story, sequester them in their room together with strict instructions to use words to express their frustration with their sibling and talk out their problem.

Step 3: if they still cannot solve their problem, get involved by hearing both sides of the story. So far we have not yet reached step 3. Our children have been able to solve their problem peacefully without Mommy or Daddy around. The process is much shorter and the peace longer-lasting than when we attempt to get all the facts and dole out appropriate consequences. I think that basically the kids just want to get back to playing and would both rather save themselves additional penalty minutes.

As for the younger two, I’m still waiting for my epiphany. Given that they’re 4 and 2, the previously outlined approach will not work. Any suggestions?

What I cling to, is that their fighting actually means they care about each other. Although my brother and I fought like cat and dog, somewhere along the line we became best friends and remained very close until we met our respective spouses. Both of our weddings felt a bit like a funeral for the other, who knew only too well that this new spouse was the replacement, the rightful occupant of that place of trust and dependency we had occupied for each other during our growing-up years. Today, after several years of working out the kinks in our overhauled relationship, fused together by new bonds of shared marriage and parenting joys and frustrations, our relationship remains strong and committed. The fights are a thing of the past and our mother can finally relax. Still, 30 years seems like a long time to wait for peace!

 

 

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Daylight Savings Time revisited

Diagram illustrating the influence of dark-lig...

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We were sitting at the dinner table when Denny, my brother-in-law (yes, the one of Trefz Family Summer Holiday fame – follow link), announced that their 16-month-old daughter sounded the alarm Sunday morning at 5:00am, thanks to Daylight Savings Time, that nemesis of modern-day parents of young children. For those without young children who couldn’t imagine what the fuss is about, allow me to explain.

Children are wired with a no-fail biological alarm that goes off at the same time every morning. In some cultures around the world (namely those that don’t rely on clocks and watches) these circadian rhythms are honed and heeded for a lifetime. I need only think of Henry, our Ughandan housemate from years ago, to whom we vainly tried to explain the concept of Daylight Savings Time. “No, no,” he would insist. “Look at where the sun is in the sky! It is not time to go yet!”

And so it is that when that alarm goes off in our 16-month-old niece’s brain, her legs hit the mat and her lungs prepare to sound the alarm for the rest of the house. This is annoying at any time of the day, but when 6:00am becomes 5:00am as a result of the adult world setting back their clocks, it can be downright infuriating.

I know this only too well, because I blogged about it last year. (The post had been removed but has since been re-posted in light of today’s topic). It took our children months to re-calibrate their biological clocks, at which time we were ready to “spring forward” again. As a result of the daily disruption to my morning peace, I decided to take action, and have come up with the perfect solution.

The solution is quite simple really: make your children grow older by at least a year and see what happens. If that doesn’t do the trick, work at it for one more year and you’re bound to see some results. I spent all of last year diligently feeding and watering them, ensuring they receive plenty of rest at regular intervals, and I’m happy to report that they have all grown by about an inch in height, packed on a few pounds apiece, and are dealing with Daylight Savings Time like real troopers. The baby (toddler, actually) is just sleeping right to the new 7:00am, while his brothers have the maturity to just quietly turn on their reading lights and look at books until their digital clock shows 7-0-0. I’m happy to report that my brilliant plan yielded results that far exceeded anyone’s expectations. So Denny, take heart, work hard, and I’m sure next year you’ll be singing the praises of my method while drinking your morning coffee in total peace and quiet.

My next project is to find a way to ensure that children actually sleep through the night despite incessant and spasmodic dry coughing, ear infections, nightmares, severe congestion, bonking their heads on their nightstands, being uncovered, and lying the wrong way around on the bed. Dealing with these afflictions has been my nightly occupation for the last three weeks, ensuring that, between the three of them, I am up at least once every three hours, sometimes on the hour. In fact, I have started going to bed essentially fully dressed so that I don’t freeze when I leave my bed’s warm embrace. It’s called being prepared for working a night shift. Still, I’d prefer sleep to being fully dressed, so I’m determined to find a solution. Any tips?

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Daylight Savings Time

***This post originally appeared on this blog a year ago but has since been removed. In the interest of today’s post (Nov. 7, 2011) I’ve decided to re-post it. ***

It’s the most frustrating time the year!

After a lengthy hiatus from blogging (presumably because life was going too smoothly) I’m back with a brand-new muse. It’s 6:20am and our youngest has already been up for over an hour. Our second is already awake as well, and keeping those two quiet in the faint hope that they will a.) fall back asleep and b.) won’t wake up the one child (mercifully) still sleeping, is akin to a juggling act with raw eggs in the presence of a sleeping Rottweiler.

Ah yes, Daylight Savings time has ended and the world rejoiced over the coveted hour of extra sleep on the weekend. It’s the one day a year where we feel like we’re out-smarting the universal order by setting our clocks back an hour. What good old George Vernon Hudson obviously didn’t consider when he invented this thing that every adult loves him for, are the circadian rhythms of babies and toddlers. It’s like jetlag minus the hotel and daytrips. (Believe it or not, Hudson, being an entomologist, wanted that extra hour of daylight so that he could collect more bugs. Nice.) I too used to love the weekend when the clocks are set back an hour, but frankly since the kids came along, we would prefer it if everyone left well enough alone.

For crying out loud, finally it’s dark enough in the morning so that we can convincingly tell our kids that 6:00 is still night time, and the despots who control the clocks go and set them back by an hour. You couldn’t just let nature take its course and let the nights become just a teensy weensy bit longer? There’s a reason why the nights get longer in the winter, you know. In fact, Teddy explained it to us the other day: since it’s so cold in the winter, the nights are longer so that we have more time to warm up in our cozy beds. Now that kid has his facts straight. If he could only convince his younger brothers that being under the blankets (asleep) is the way to go.

Occasionally I will spend a few minutes before I fall asleep leafing through an old journal to see what I was writing about a year ago. For the last two years (at least) there are bound to be several November journal entries that are almost hot to the touch, fuming about children who had been sleeping until that magical 6:30 or 7:00am until this cursed time change, when they think 5:30 is “morning.” Oddly enough, it’s like a change of the hour hand is all babies and toddlers need to move their awake time ahead even more, which results in 5:15 mornings on a regular basis.

What baffles me is that, while a toddler can travel to Germany and somehow adjust to a 6 hour time change in two days, this bothersome one-hour difference will throw my babies off for weeks, nay, months afterwards. I remember when Sam was a toddler and Daylight Savings time ended. Without exaggeration this early rising stuck with him for at least 8 months if not more. I almost signed off on my sanity. By the time he started waking at a more normal time again I was nearing my due date with the next baby, who is now dutifully bearing the torch of the early riser.

For the last six years we’ve always had a baby or toddler in the house, and so there has been plenty of opportunity to develop great disdain for the end of Daylight Savings time. The next person who talks about how great it was to “get that extra hour of sleep on Sunday” or how wonderful it is that “it’s actually light out when I get up now!” has automatically signed up for a week-long, all-inclusive sleepover with my little guys. No, really, it’s my pleasure.

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Deployed to the Craft Hut

On Monday of this past week I had a conversation about children and creativity with children’s book author Brian Cretney. While my passion involves getting kids away from screens and into the natural world, Brian’s passion is to get kids away from screens by having them create something. As a father, primary teacher, illustrator, writer and musician, Brian is well qualified to be leading this crusade. Had I not been fresh off a day of wiping up craft glue for the better part of the morning, while 132 kids made their superhero crafts, I might have agreed with him even more than I already did.

            If you’ve never broken a sweat doing crafts, you’ve never been the Keeper of the Craft Hut at Vacation Bible School. I agreed to help with Crafts for two reasons: I love Catherine (our Children’s Ministry Director) and Jacqueline (the Craft Queen), and my eldest son would be there anyway, so why not help out? Catherine said something about me “being crafty anyway” which is to say that I knit and sew, not that I’m a scheming woman of ill repute. It wasn’t until I found myself sewing elastic to 65 felt superhero masks that I felt a sense of trepidation.

            Many people reading this have invested their time at VBS this week. Some were heavily involved in the coordination of this debut event at our church, which ended up being bigger than anyone expected. Some were very visible as actors and story-tellers, while others laboured behind the scenes, tirelessly supplying staff and kids with delicious peanut/milk/egg/gluten/colour/free snacks (did I forget anything?) and drinks. I am sure what happened at VBS this week will be branded on our collective memories for months and years to come. For my part, here are some of the life lessons and memories the Craft Hut yielded this week.

 

            Monday

            Project: plastic superhero capes for the young kids, felt superhero masks for the older ones. The kids got to (attempted to…whatever) decorate their capes/masks with sequins, self-adhesive foam letters, rhinestones and non-adhesive foam shapes. The first group used white craft glue to attach pretty much everything. Problem #1: kids don’t understand the concept of “a dab’ll do ya” any more than they understand the intricacies of photosynthesis, so you can imagine the mess of running glue, slipping rhinestones and sticky capes that we found drying on clothes hangers in the closet. Problem #2: there is much, much wiping of tables to be done when you’ve handed out white craft glue in coffee creamers which fall over at just the thought of being knocked over.

            Life lesson: always use glue sticks instead of white craft glue when working with anyone under the age of 10, and always use disposable table cloths.

p.s. It’s the first day, and Caleb (who is in childcare along with Sammy) enjoys himself in the nursery and stays awake until we get home for lunch.

 

            Tuesday

            Project: decorated wooden wall plaques with clothespins glued on (intended to serve as clips to hold pictures etc.) for the younger kids and clothespins with metal shower rings to hold colourful paper tags for the older ones. Problem: It’s8:45am and you decide that it would be best for the Craft Team to super-glue the clothespins to the wooden plaques. Good call. While 75% of the team is feverishly working, the other 25% (me) is busy preparing the room we used yesterday, wondering why nothing was left set up. It happens that one person may or may not be notified when the venue is changed.

            Life lesson: laugh about the mix-up and work double-time to make up for lost time spent opening windows and blinds in another room and looking for tables that were already set up in another building.

p.s. It’s day two, and Caleb falls asleep in the van on the way home. I understand.

            Wednesday

            Project: crazy pom-pom characters with foam feet, decorated with feathers, googly eyes, and pipe cleaners. While the younger kids used pre-fab pom-poms, the older kids were taught how to make pom-poms out of yarn – from scratch. Problem #1: again, white craft glue was involved, except this time we chose bigger containers, handed out fewer of them, had paper table cloths, and removed the glue when not in use. However, when there are fans blowing in a room where children with limited manual dexterity are working with feathers and liquid glue, you can imagine the outcome. Problem #2: when attempting to attach tiny googly eyes with liquid glue, children will get glue on their hands, which they will want to wash off when they’re done. Be prepared to escort about 18 of them to the sinks by yourself, since the other staff are frantically trying to help the other children complete their craft on time. Count heads frequently and thank your wise Director later for supplying each team with easily identifiable team-colour shirts! Problem #3: when working with 40 balls of yarn and some totally inexperienced pom-pom makers, be prepared to untangle – a lot. Also, there is a good chance that they will not complete the project in the allotted time. In fact, you’re lucky if everyone even gets a pom-pom that holds together. When even some of the team leaders have never held a ball of yarn in their hands, your chance of success with pom-poms is slim.

            Life lesson (as realized by Jacqueline, our Craft Guru): teaching three children how to make pom-poms in the relative peace of your living room is a whole lot easier than teaching 40 kids how to simultaneously make pom-poms in the Craft Hut at VBS.

p.s. It’s day three and Caleb falls asleep in the arms of a childcare volunteer and is out for the count when I come to pick him up. Believe me, I understand.

 

            Thursday

            Project: cloth lunch bags decorated with fabric markers. While this was the most labour-intensive project to prepare (it took about 30 hours for Jacqueline’s mom and Barb Heinrichs to sew all of the cloth bags by hand – Thank you!), it was by far the easiest to set up and clean up.  Problem: The staff will have too much time on their hands as the kids pull off this craft with flying colours, and will become a nuisance in the kitchen with their frequent trips to pick up goodies and drinks.

            Life lesson: Stick with Crayola and you can’t go wrong. Next year I’m thinking we’ll have a Marker and Fabric theme. Each day kids can decorate one in a series of 5 cotton items with fabric markers! What parent wouldn’t appreciate kids coming home with a new pair of underwear from VBS each day? Now there’s a craft with some lasting usefulness.

p.s. Caleb screams bloody murder when I drop him off at childcare. I’m told he stopped as soon as I left. Translation: “Mom, that’s enough! I don’t live here you know!”

 

            Friday

            Project: macramé key chains with coloured beads, symbolizing Speech, Life, Love, Faith and Purity (see memory verse). For those of you who don’t know what macramé is (as I didn’t as late as Wednesday) it’s a method of tying knots to form a type of braid with yarn. Problem: the only prerequisite one needs to master macramé is a basic understanding of knots. Although most children can count by two’s at VBS, they cannot tie their shoes, so this presents a problem when attempting macramé (my apologies toFranklin the Turtle). There is one group of girls for whom the activity was extremely enjoyable and simple: the grade 4/5 girls who have been doing this at recess. Their male peers, however, are another story altogether. Making bracelets is about as unfamiliar to them as suturing a patient after open-heart surgery wearing gardening gloves.

            Life lesson: Be flexible. When you’re doing crafts you’ll have to change plans on the fly once you realize that what you had planned will not work. We substituted macramé with a simpler method called Chinese steps, but finally the last two groups of kids threaded their beads onto pipe cleaners. Let parents teach their kids to tie their shoes.

p.s. Caleb enjoys himself all day, particularly the BBQ and bouncy house afterwards. Ah, a sweet reward for all his troubles.

 

            I cannot count the number of children’s crafts I have thrown out over the past few years. You can only keep macaroni-covered bottles and construction paper masterpieces for so long. I choose not to think about the fate of this week’s crafts, which cost far in excess of 100 woman-hours (Jacqueline’s contribution alone!) and several hundred dollars. But that really isn’t the point, is it? VBS is not about which hand-made treasures will survive into adulthood (or even to September) but about the relationships the kids have developed with each other and the staff, the fond memories of crazy games, yummy snacks and fun crafts, and the nuggets of truth that have hopefully been imbedded deep in their little souls. This week’s nugget looked something like this:

“Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the Believers in Speech, in Life, in Love, in Faith and in Purity.” 1. Timothy4:12 (as dictated to me verbatim by my 6-year-old son).

Hearing the kids (future adults) recite this verse with such abandon at VBS was perhaps the most meaningful part of the week for me. If there was ever any doubt as to why we put forth the effort, then I vote that that right there is answer enough.

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