Monday, November 29, 2010

My Boy Toys

On any given weekday, if you show up at my house unannounced after school, you may find any manner of blanket and chair built contraption in our living room. You may find a tent set up in the family room, or a rock city being constructed in the backyard. There could be small people running around in inexplicable combinations of costumed attire or someone in the bathtub with every spatula I own and a towering display of measuring cups, each with a different army man in them. There may be a pillowcase tied to a sword, hanging off of the trampoline net in the backyard and billowing in the breeze. Or a series of sticks stuck in the ground in a row and then tied with string and spaced with pieces of paper marked with random letters and shapes on them. There might even be a huge hole that has been dug and filled with sticks, water and inflated plastic bags. Everyone could be hiding in the closet, or someone could be guarding the laundry room door with a pair of chopsticks. You will have no idea what any of it means.

But they will.

You see, in the time they could have spent watching television or playing a video game, my two little boys were inventing a new language, or putting on a play, or playing pirates on the trampoline. They were stealing all the spoons out of the silverware drawer to dig up worms. Or singing freshly invented songs on the tire swing, and trying to build a catapult out of sticks, rocks and yarn. They were involved in a heated debate about how high the Lego tower around the tree trunk should be, which ended in someone tattling, and were instructed to work it out like gentlemen, without violence. They may or may not have followed this wise advice.

They play outside constantly. Sometimes they drive us crazy because they're not in a trance in front of the television so they require a lot more interaction. But it's worth it. Just ask a couple of poor tiny trees with a spider webbed network of ropes tied all over them in the front yard where homemade swings and child-engineered brilliance are experimented with daily. Some future genius architect of some amazing physics-defying building is probably living in my house right this minute while I write this, smearing toothpaste all over everything in the bathroom every morning as he gets ready for school, and forgetting to put his dirty laundry in the hamper every afternoon.

I grew up with boys.

I had three little brothers and our house was never quiet. In fact, in a two story house with wood floors in my brothers' rooms, if you were unfortunate enough to be meditating or trying to find inner peace on the bottom floor, it often sounded like the ceiling was about to come down. They were always wrestling, pummelling and ambushing each other.

I remember playing manhunt and capture the flag with my brothers in my teenage years in the orange groves near our house late at night with thirty or so people from school and church, everyone decked out in camouflage and war paint, armed with pocket knives, rope and flashlights. We usually had to sneak over the ditch and under the fence to get in the groves in the first place and then there was no shortage of muffled shrieks (from all the girls), blinding lights being shined into eyes and random oranges and grapefruits hurtling past one's ear as he or she crouched in a hyperventilating state, trying to avoid capture or worse, the huge spiders that lived in the orange trees.

I shudder now just thinking of those disgusting spiders.

I was always a bit of a tomboy and spent plenty of time climbing trees, exploring the woods, and building forts. I still think that kind of childhood, with tons of time spent outside, to be sacred. And rare. You just don't see lots of kids playing outside anymore.

So I think God knew what he was doing when he gave me two boys.

I realize that quite a few parents don't have the type of schedule or freedom that gives their children hours of time outdoors to learn uninhibited. And I know a lot of video games are educational.

But leaves are more educational.

And rocks. Trees. Lizards and worms. Dirt and kitchen utensils turned props. And puppy dogs.
Usually when our children ask if they can watch television, the answer is no. I believe deeply that Derek and I are doing them a huge service in this regard. Less television is more.

I have to admit, in my normal crazed goal-setting self, I'm a little bit Utopian about my children. As much as it is in my power, I am determined to see them to adulthood with every opportunity for their betterment, and have many ideas of what this finished product looks like. For my boys, my forward thinking involves qualities such as being Christ-followers, men of their word, punctual, wise, able, tender-hearted, self-controlled, articulate, comfortable with leading and following, and gentlemen. I want my boys to be well educated, both with books and the outdoors. We're trying to raise men. Men in the real definition of the word.

So Derek and I decided a few years ago that we didn't want our boys to fit in. We didn't want them to take their cues from Hollywood. We didn't want them to be addicted to video games, television, or entertainment. We wanted them to treat women with respect and honor and never to judge the value of a person by what is on the outside. We wanted them to value their time and not to be always bored without electronic forms of entertainment. We wanted our children to be able to use their ingenuity and God-given creativity to invent their own entertainment.

We wanted them to love God.

We wanted them to read good books.

And we wanted them to play outside a ton.

For us, the idea is that their lifestyle as adults will be inspired by the great and the beautiful, principles from the Bible, nature and the classics, so we knew we'd have to give them the kind of childhood conducive to that.

I don't pretend to be an expert at this kind of childhood.

We make truckloads of mistakes.

And this is all still in the experimental stages. They are still small children. And we will always be a parenting work in progress. But I believe in parenting on purpose, in writing down what we hope the finished product of our children will be, and then aiming accordingly with our habits and allowances. I get excited about this kind of strategizing, about the huge influence I have in the lives of two very special someday men.

Proverbs 22:6 says, "Train up a child in the way he should go, and even when he is old he will not depart from it."

With our sights set on excellence, I hope and believe that in allowing our boys hours every day in exploration of nature, promoting the reading of good books like Treasure Island, Gulliver's Travels or My Side of the Mountain, and by studying and upholding the principles found in the Bible, despite our many mistakes, we are helping to make them into the finest kind of men. The kind of men that will make a difference.

The kind of man you'd want your daughter to marry.

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