Posts tagged responsibility

Saving the Oregon Spotted Frog

“We are going to save The Frogs!” Teddy announced yesterday as he arrived home from school. What I heard was, “Mom, I need 20 bucks!” He proudly presented a round, pink paper-maché pig, which, in his little mind, made perfect sense in connection with saving The Frogs. Although the details were sparse, the connection in my mind was clear: Teddy’s school needs more money.

Let’s just say I wasn’t too enthusiastic about throwing money at frogs. The kids’ pizza order forms are still lying around on my desk, waiting to be filled. Our friends are going to Thailand and are asking for our support. The Kidney Foundation wants our money, as does the Humane Society. Our el Cheapo BBQ needs to be replaced, Caleb has no summer shoes, and some months our grocery bills are dangerously close to the four-figure mark. I don’t need another thing to throw money at. (Did anyone notice that I stifled the urge to include rising gas prices in my list?)

At supper, Teddy finally filled us in on the details, which were surprising to say the least. Apparently the Northern Leopard Frog and the Oregon Spotted Frog are both endangered in North America. The fact that the kids are learning about endangered species is not surprising to me. What is surprising, is that the kids are supposed to fill that pig with money raised by the sweat of their brow. In other words, they’re supposed to work for mom and dad’s support! I have decided that his teacher is a genius.

What makes her even more of a genius is that she’s asking every child to raise – get this – one dollar. Not $20. One dollar. I had to read that several times to be sure I hadn’t misplaced the decimal in my mind. Given that Teddy and his classmates have been primed to seek work vacuuming, clearing the table and drying the dishes, I can get a lot of mileage out of this buck. He received a quarter for clearing the table after supper yesterday. This morning he helped Sam clean out the dishwasher (Sam’s morning chore) in hopes that it would garner him a dime. All of this from a kid who, together with his brother, earned almost $10 picking up sticks from the lawn during March Break. To be specific, Teddy and Sammy picked up 960 sticks, which, at a penny per stick, added up to a handsome $9.60. Teddy was already earning $1.00 picking up sticks when he was five or six years old, so this assignment seems almost too easy.

I suppose his teacher has to consider the lowest common denominator though. Our children learn to work almost from the time they can walk upright, whereas some of the 7 and 8-year-olds in his class have probably never made the acquaintance of a kitchen towel. Kudos to the grade 2 teachers at Teddy’s school for reintroducing the long-forgotten idea that kids can do real useful work to raise money for a cause they believe in.

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Homeward bound after a week’s stay at the cottage, our 6-year-old son surprised us with some unexpected news: “Hey Mommy, guess what? I’m bringing 3 frogs home!” While the news was unexpected, it didn’t come as a surprise.

One of Teddy’s favourite occupations while at the cottage was collecting tiny postage stamp-sized toads for observation. He’s now telling everyone that he collected 21: eleven little toads and one much larger frog that counts for 10. Now three of his little friends were embarking on an epic odyssey (at least for a toad) and their new owner couldn’t contain his joy. “Finally I have a pet!” he remarked continually.

The biggest surprise in this story is that Mommy also likes the toads. I am known to like – nay, love – plants, but animals are too uncontrollable and messy. (Which is precisely why I should probably have a pet, but that’s a different discussion altogether.) I wasn’t a huge fan at first, but those little brown speckled frogs with their scrawny legs and freckle-sized feet have grown on me.

Initially I was prepared to insist on having him release the little guys after a day or two, explaining that they would be happier in the wild where they could catch their own food. With a heavy heart and tears running down his face he headed outside to do as he was told. Now, I am a big believer in sticking to my guns in most parenting struggles, but this I couldn’t bear to watch. It wasn’t that long since I was a kid (was it?), and suddenly I could feel his pain at having to release his precious “new pets” into the wide open backyard. I ran outside to let him know that we’d try to make the arrangement work. Besides, this could be a great learning opportunity (for all of us!).

Now that we had some permanent amphibian residents in the house, we decided to make some arrangements to increase their comfort. For one thing, they needed food. What do tiny frogs eat? Ants, apparently. So until we could get to a pet store to buy some crickets, Oliver and the boys captured ants and watched the little toads hunt them down. This activity is much more interesting to watch than a cocoon languishing away day after day. We put a few rocks into the little bug catcher so they would have something to climb onto, and made sure to fill the water bottle lid with water so they could cool off whenever they felt like it. Still, every 10 minutes Teddy would ask if we could buy a terrarium for the frogs. When I could no longer stand it and forbade him asking me again (it was, after all, still only Sunday – the day after we’d gotten home) he began to say things like, “those frogs sure are squished in there…they need a terrarium” or “I’m sure those frogs would be happier in a terrarium.”

I knew installing that windowsill was a good idea.

By Monday Teddy had the responsibility of feeding the frogs, which was an eye-opening experience for him indeed. For the first time he realized that if these guys were going to live, it would be because he caught the food for them. While running errands on Tuesday we happened to pass a pet store, and I – in a very uncharacteristic move – went in with the children in tow. A pet store for kids is like a jewelry store for women. They have live animals, people! Not being pet owners ourselves (at least, until recently) we never darken the door of pet stores, so for our children this experience was as new as the dawn. We did manage to walk out with only the essentials and no extra pets: a plastic bucket specifically designed for kids who collect small critters, a plastic “rock” with a small depression to hold water, and some coconut husk plantation soil. I dug up a weed from the lawn and planted it in a small jar and placed it in our new “terrarium” along with a few rocks from the garden. Most importantly we purchased 10 mini-crickets, almost as big as the toads themselves. For the little toads, the crickets were certainly more demanding prey than the ants, but by the end of the day only 3 were left. Success!

In just over a week I have gone from having no contact with animals to babysitting a terd on my kitchen windowsill to observing a small eco-system interact in a blue-tinged bucket.  Here’s my latest observation about life, based on toads and children:  just as the clay of our life is beginning to harden as we reach adulthood, God gives us children to force change and new experiences. Any kid will tell you that soft clay is way more fun to work with than the hard stuff.

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The 5-letter S-word (sorry)

“Kids are dumb as mud,” says Dr. Kevin Leman in his book Have a New Kid by Friday. Any parent with a child over the age of 3 will probably agree. Kids will do things which leave us shaking our heads. (“Really, you thought it was a good idea to throw rocks through the plastic window well cover?” or “What do you mean you’re making a salad with my hosta leaves?”) In his book, The New Strong-Willed Child Dr. James Dobson says,

 As we all know, children will regularly spill things, lose things, break things, forget things, and mess up things. That’s the way kids are made…If the foolishness [is] particularly pronounced for the age and maturity of the individual, Mom or Dad might want to have the youngster help with the cleanup or even work to pay for the loss… It goes with the territory, as they say.[1]

 Today was one of those days at our house. Our oldest had spent the morning at VBS (vacation bible school) which is always a highlight of the summer. 140 kids packed into one place for 2 ½ hours every morning for 5 days, playing games and having snacks…now that’s what our extroverted son lives for. What he doesn’t appreciate as much are the wrap-up times at the end where he has to sit relatively still and listen. He happens to be a six-year-old with ants in his pants (no matter how much we insist on proper hygiene) and to sit on a pew in the presence of other boys his age and actually pay attention is often too much to ask (though I do).

So today, after a particularly exhilarating morning, we arrived home to find out from his friend’s mother that there was a hole in her son’s sleeve, courtesy of my son’s teeth. The aforementioned quote from Kevin Leman went through my mind, as it often does in these situations. (Although most parents can nod their heads in understanding, those with children who lack a certain amount of impulse control will nod vigourously.)

Whatever motivated our son to bite the shirt sleeve of the boy who sat next to him is not the issue. I like Dr. Dobson’s term for it: childish irresponsibility. At our house though, when childish irresponsibility leads to personal property being damaged or someone being hurt (either physically or emotionally) the child is expected to make things right by apologizing to the person they’ve wronged and, if appropriate, pay restitution (at least partial) out of their piggybank. It doesn’t happen often, but when it does, it’s a very painful process for both Mommy and child.

So why go through it if it hurts us both? The simple answer is that children need to learn to take responsibility for their actions, and that doesn’t magically happen at age 16. It starts at age 4 or 5 when Junior needs to apologize for thoughtlessly breaking something that belonged to someone else.

I’ll never forget when our son repeatedly smashed a plastic window well cover at my friend’s house. (I believe that day her central vacuum and the handle on her storm door were also broken by rowdy kids, though she assures me that our boy wasn’t involved. Phew! I don’t think his allowance would have covered that one.)

Although he was only 4 years old, we took a few coins out of his piggy bank, topped up the rest with our own money, and drove back to the friend’s house to say we were sorry and pay restitution. Although our friend could hardly bring herself to “accept money from a child” (something about feeling like a criminal) it was a lesson that he internalized from that day on. Although our son is impulsive, he is not destructive. For the most part our children’s toys (and our house!) are in one piece because the oldest understands that things cost money to replace. He keeps the younger ones in line and models good behaviour in that department.

The concept of restitution and taking responsibility has become relatively foreign in the context of young children. Collectively we as parents often fail to let the child experience the consequences of their behaviour, frequently shielding them from the repercussions instead. We make excuses for our kids or just take the hit ourselves, thinking that we’re doing it because we love our kids. This is in part why these young children grow up to be young people lacking any sense of responsibility, thinking nothing of throwing their pop can on the sidewalk, knocking over a trashcan, or destroying someone’s personal property with graffiti. Someone else will clean it up, right? They always have before.

A few times recently I have witnessed our son quietly pick up a pop can or paper bag from the sidewalk and hang on to it until he reaches a garbage can where he throws it out. Even though it was painful today, he worked up the courage and apologized to his friend at great personal cost. He’s learning that making the right choices isn’t always easy, but it’s necessary.

If only we adults could take a page from his book, this world would be a better place. Maybe kids aren’t so dumb after all.

[1] James Dobson, The New Strong-Willed Child (Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.,Wheaton,Illinois, 2004, 57)

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The Fat of the Land

Thus says the Lord:

 “Beware lest you forget the Lord your God by not keeping His commandments and His ordinances and His statutes which I am commanding you today; lest when you have

 eaten your giant, saturated portions of beef and rich desserts and are over-stuffed,

and have built your 2500 sq. foot home with 3 bedrooms, 3 bathrooms, an interlocking brick driveway and natural gas hook-up for summer barbeques,

and when your stocks grow and your investments multiply and your house appreciates and all that you have multiplies,

then your heart becomes proud, and you forget the Lord your God who brought you out of bondage and poverty.” (Deuteronomy 8:11-14…sort of).

This is how Deuteronomy 8 sounded to me when I read it this morning. How should I describe it? Convicting? A kick in the pants? A wake-up call? Yeah, something like that.

I’m 31 years old, with a husband, 3 kids, a minivan, and a mortgage on a house in suburbia. We started out 10 years ago in a dingy apartment with Astroturf carpets, colourful neighbours, and an over-zealous heating system. Like most other people we know, we slowly “moved up” in the world. After a year or two we rented a better place, which we left once we purchased our first home. We had a baby, and other factors became important: being closer to church and family. So we sold our starter home and moved into a home in a nicer neighbourhood, close to our church and family, and of course, good schools. We now occupied a home that gave our family of 3 the unofficial minimum of 300 square feet of living space per person. We also had great neighbours, great curb-appeal, and two Toyotas in the driveway. Finally, we had arrived.

Two more kids and a few years later, there’s a problem. We’re now at only 200 square feet per person, and the Toyotas are getting old and rusty. Somehow, it doesn’t feel like “we have arrived” anymore. Common sense tells us that we need to consider another move to make room for the growing family. A 1000-square foot bungalow simply will not accommodate three boys and their parents for the next 20 years.

I have yet to meet anyone who would argue that point with me. In a society where personal comfort is one of our highest values (especially where children are concerned) it is assumed that any effort put forth to secure those comforts is justified. The thought of subjecting two or three children to sharing a bedroom for years just rubs most people the wrong way. After all, how can a child flourish if they are not given the best possible… everything?

For many of our grandparents (and perhaps even parents) going without was a fact of life. Christmas presents included hand-knit socks, oranges, and perhaps one toy. Children of long-ago could not have conceived of the gifts that have now become standard Christmas fare: video game consoles, televisions and high-priced electronic toys. The families that occupied the homes in our neighbourhood back when they were new had an average of 3 or 4 children where today’s families have one or two. Somehow, despite having to share rooms and crowd around a kitchen table, these children grew up to become hard-working, productive members of society.

I recently saw a Real Estate listing for a “family home” where we knew the owner. A business owner, he had built this 6000 square foot mansion for his family of six, not sparing any expense. It seems a looming bankruptcy had forced the sale of the ultra-luxurious house that was supposed to be the fulfillment of every desire these people could have conceived of. If I’m honest though, I suffer from the same ailment this ambitious business owner does: it’s just never enough. If money and comfort are the goal, we wander perpetually, yet never arrive.

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It’s been a while since this site has seen any traffic. That’s what happens when the owner is wearing about 26 different hats, juggling everything from motherhood to spring cleaning (both inside and out) to a kitchen renovation. Throw in starting up a small business in her spare time, and blogging drops down to the bottom of the heap. And therein lies the inspiration for today’s blog. My life consists of yardwork, homework, housework, (and very seldom) paid work. Sometimes there’s room for some rest, but almost never in large quantities. For most of us living in the developed world, this probably describes what occupies 80% of our time. (For those of us who have no dishwasher, that figure might rise to 85%.)

It all seems so right until we start looking a little beyond our borders to see what’s occupying the time of much of the world’s poor: scavenging for food, scraping together enough materials to establish some kind of shelter, begging, caring for dying children. The contrast is stark.

I’ve been reading and hearing a lot about the underdeveloped world lately. Last week I met a missionary surgeon who left a successful group practice 8 years ago to apply her skills at an under-staffed clinic in northern Ecuador. Her job description involves laparoscopic surgery, banana harvesting, cyst removal, grass cutting with a machete, foot amputations, goat milking, and directing a clinic in which she is the only trained medical professional.

I just finished reading a book by a couple who, upon receiving their PhDs, took off to war-torn Mozambique in the 80’s to take in orphans who had been living in the most inhumane conditions with unimaginably broken pasts. Judging by the Baker family picture, they themselves have adopted around 20 children (in addition to their own two). Take that, Brangelina.

Then there was the Mennonite surgeon, Dr. Frank Duerksen, whose book, Mission with Passion was another eye-opening read. His work among the ostracized leprosy patients of South America and Ethiopia is extremely interesting and inspiring. He poured his life into becoming a world-class surgeon who rubbed shoulders with people whom the rest of the world didn’t want to touch. He spent his time dispelling myths about leprosy, performing reconstructive surgery to those ravaged by the disease, and traveling to remote corners of the bush to connect with those who needed a doctor. Perhaps my favourite story was the one of him delivering a breached baby (butt-first) by moonlight in the back of an oxcart on a cold night.

So where does that leave me? Why do I have the privilege of being well-fed, and living in a middle-class neighbourhood in Canada? I do not think that we all need to leave our lives and join the poor in the slums. But are we even aware of them? Are we so busy with our work and leisure that we’re not even aware of the plight of 80% of our brothers and sisters? What are our bank statements saying about where our money’s going? Is any of it making a difference in the life of even one poor person?

I’m coming to the realization that I can chose to be a cog in the wheel that turns to level the playing field for the world’s people. I was put here to serve a greater purpose than just to support the status quo with my money and my time. Just this morning I read an anonymous quote with which I’ll end:

            “Don’t pursue – don’t even dabble with – the seemingly safe, self-focused, self-satisfying route that our society…affirms and rarely questions. Living half-hearted and with regrets should be the thing that scares us most.”



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