I would love to have a circular smartphone

It would work with the dislike of rectangles that I espouse in this blog very well!

http://www.cnn.com/2015/03/12/tech/mci-runcible-smartphone/index.html

What would your world look like if you removed the rectangles from it and replaced them with circles? Or if you quit surrounding things with borders at all? Would you accomplish more if there were no lines in your world?

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Text of the CNN article, for that future day when the link no longer works: 

How a circular smartphone could help us rethink tech
Updated 6:46 AM ET, Thu March 12, 2015

A Californian startup has developed a circular smartphone called “Runcible”
The provocative anti-phone is meant to be an antidote to our obsession for digital devices

(WIRED)Screens are rectangles. Even the 3-year-old playing with your iPad could tell you that. But what would the digital world look like through a different sort of frame? Say… a circular one?

Monohm, a startup based in Berkeley, California, was founded around this very idea. For the last year, the three-person team has been working a circular, palm-sized device dubbed Runcible.

They cheekily refer to it as the “anti-smartphone,” a description that goes for both its form factor and its value system.

The round device is meant to be the antidote to our feed-obsessed, notification-saturated digital existence. It’s a challenge to the rectangular status quo and everything it represents. That’s a quixotic dream, but an interesting one.

Different Rectangles, Different Effects

Display technologies have a long and rectangular history. Before smartphones there were movie screens, TVs, and computers, not to mention paintings and pages of print. And then of course there are windows—in some ways the original glass rectangles.

In each case, the rectangle’s prominence can be attributed in large part to practicality. Whether you’re talking about film or glass or stone, rectangles are easy to make. They don’t leave much wasted material.

As frames for shaping the world, however, different types of rectangles can produce vastly different effects.

In her book The Virtual Window, which traces the rectangular frame from Renaissance painting up through Microsoft Windows, media theorist Anne Friedberg offers an example from the history of architecture, centering on a public feud between French builder August Perret and the preeminent modernist architect Le Corbusier.

Perret was a strong advocate of the traditional French casement window, which was oriented vertically. Its main function, he said, was to let light into a room. Le Corbusier, making use of new manufacturing techniques, designed his buildings around long, horizontal windows, which were as much about framing the outside world as illuminating the space within. The disagreement influenced architecture for decades to come. The simple act of turning a rectangle on its side gave us entirely new ways to think about space.

Rectangles are still subtly dictating our behavior today. Movie screens, chased by TVs, have gotten bigger and wider, encouraging us to sit back and lose ourselves in the spectacle. (In 1930, Russian filmmaker Sergei Eisenstein lamented how the cinema’s “passive horizontalism.” He wanted the screen to be square.)

Smartphones, with their slender, touch-controlled displays, have become a distinctly more active rectangle. Paired with the never-ending vertical feeds that fill apps like Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, they’ve become an irresistible, inexhaustible diversion.

The point is this: Frames matter. They suggest certain things about how we should approach them. They shape the type of stuff that’s made for them. And if just turning a rectangle on its side can make such a big difference, imagine all the interesting things that might happen if you left the rectangle behind altogether.

The Contained, Constrained Circle

Runcible isn’t meant to be a smartphone replacement so much as an alternative. “I think we’ve become really, really good at getting interrupted and creating conduits for interruption,” says Monohm CEO Aubrey Anderson, who met his co-founders during a stint at Apple. “It’s time now to use technology to get a little quieter.”

If miniaturizing the computer is what got us the smartphone, Runcible asks what a gizmo might look like if you started by souping up a pocket watch. And the shape of the device is central to that thinking. A circular frame, after all, is no good for browsing a Twitter feed.

So what is it good for? That’s the question. At this point, Runcible as much a provocation as an actual product.

The three-person team, which has been working with the San Francisco design studio Box Clever on the concept for nearly a year, has some prototype hardware and a crude sketch of an operating system, but they’ve still got a long way to go.

They’ve got a few vague ideas for applications. One is a sort of dashboard that gives you an overview of activity on your social media accounts. Another is a compass-style mapping system that encourages wandering instead of pure A-to-B efficiency. But they’re more enthusiastic about the philosophy behind it all: They want to see applications that distill information and streamline interaction, software that constrains the smartphone experience as it exists today.

All this is easier said than done, of course. Throwing out centuries of rectangular thinking and starting from scratch ain’t easy. Plus, it’s not clear that people really want constraint to begin with. Smartphones are distracting, sure, but they’re also incredibly useful and immensely entertaining and maybe a little distraction is a fair price to pay for all the good stuff.

Still, even as a hint of a possible device, Runcible is compelling. For one thing, the company’s hardware model feels great in the hand (The team’s hardware guy, George Arriola, came from Sony, where he helped design the PlayStation 4.) The model’s curved back brings to mind the very first iPhone—and makes you consider how each successive generation has become a little bit harder to hold. And though unformed, the vision for the software is interesting too.

If today’s interactive rectangles and infinite feeds signal that there’s always more stuff just outside the frame, circles could offer something more self-contained, more complete. Maybe even something actively inefficient. Rectangles are beautiful and functional. Circles are zen.

A circular device would sever the link to the printed page, the TV and the computer, and invite developers to look elsewhere for metaphor and inspiration. Pocket watches and compasses. Microscopes and telescopes. Peep holes, port holes, and wormholes. Dials, buttons, and other circular controls.

If nothing else, the concept could be valuable simply for helping us identify some of the assumptions and habits that underlie our existing devices.

Maybe thinking about circles could help us make our rectangles better.

Starting to Think Outside the Frame

Runcible is just one scrappy, literal attempt to abandon the rectangle. But similar thinking is happening elsewhere. Android Wear, Google’s smartwatch operating system, reconsiders what apps should look like on a tiny circular display.

Apple Watch is in some ways another rectangle, but its real estate is limited enough that it will also encourage new, less rectangular thinking. (Note how its home screen ditches iPhone’s grid of icons for a blob of circular ones. Also note the recent rise of circular avatars over the traditional square ones in apps and interfaces of all kinds).

We’ve seen how sensors can be harnessed to choreograph experiences that happen outside of the frame entirely, as with Disney’s Magic Bands, which usher you through the company’s parks. And then of course there are technologies like augmented reality and virtual reality, where your nose is effectively pressed so close to the glass that the frame disappears entirely.

Here, the screen is less of a window, more of a lens. The only frame is your field of vision.

Rectangles will endure. They’re easy, they’re efficient. But as new components and manufacturing techniques make it easier to experiment with other forms, we’ll likely find people exploring the unique effects they can produce. Just recently, in fact, we saw an instance of a tech industry giant leaving the glass rectangle behind in a very big way.

In a 10 minute video, Google proposed a new headquarters that would leaves boxy buildings behind in favor of tent-like structures draped in glass. These buildings don’t have vertical windows or horizontal windows. They’re nothing but windows, or maybe they’re so radical that the concept of “window” doesn’t even really apply.

Whatever the case, there’s nothing rectangular about them, and Google’s convinced they’re the future.

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How about a resolution to Be Yourself? (a.k.a. – a Proverbs 31 post)

You are more precious than rubies.

You are more precious than rubies

I am reading a new book that I’ve wanted to read for awhile now: A Year of Biblical Womanhood by Rachel Held Evans. I am enjoying it immensely. I avoided it for a while after hearing about it, because I expected a self-righteous written lecture about how to obey all the Old Testament legalities that most of today’s Christians consider unimportant. But it isn’t that at all.

Consider her “Proverbs 31” chapter, where she studies the chapter of Proverbs that begins “A wife of noble character who can find?” and continues with a long (looooong) list of all the things this exemplified woman does in her role of virtuous woman. I expected this chapter to make me feel “UGH”, but to my complete surprise, that isn’t how this author writes at all.

In this time of New Year’s Resolutions, I simply adore how Rachel Held Evans addresses the Proverbs 31 woman. First, she points out that no such woman ever existed. The chapter is not about someone who did in fact “do it all”. Also, in Jewish circles, it is not considered to be a list of things that all women should strive to master. In fact, the only instruction in that passage is given to other people – they are instructed to “honor her for all her hands have done”. Simply put, it is not a to-do list!

You are not blocked from being a valorous woman if you can not sew. You are not blocked from being a virtuous woman if you can not cook. You are not blocked from being a woman of noble character if you are not married. Not at all.

So what if you work, and purchase the clothing you wear from another person? The Proverbs 31 woman had servants, surely she didn’t sew every single item she wore, so if you work honestly and spend your money honestly, you are still clothing yourself and are a valorous woman.
It doesn’t matter if your method of cooking is opening a can of soup or ordering pizza. The point is that neither yourself nor your family is going hungry because you ignore them. So you are still a virtuous woman.
And since our society today does not require a male person to be the sole representative for his family in matters of law or policy, so if you are a single or widowed or divorced woman, you can still can be a woman of noble character without a husband today.

It’s not a to-do list, folks. You can use the strengths God already gave you, to be the best you can be, without trying to copy anyone else. You don’t even have to copy the non-existent Proverbs 31 woman.

So enough with the resolutions to change. Enough with the resolutions to be “good enough”. Enough with the resolutions to be more like someone else – whether that person have a model’s figure, an Olympian’s strength, or the homemaking instincts of Martha Stewart. Enough.

God made you who you are. How about a resolution to Be Yourself this year?

For my part, I ordered a unicycle. Yep. A unicycle. If I were to rewrite Proverbs 31 for myself today, “makes others laugh” would be part of it, I’m sure.

Movie recommendation: Boxtrolls

I have a new favorite movie: Boxtrolls! It has everything – cute characters, awesome scenery, witty dialogue, good music, good lessons that aren’t preachy, and a happy ending. And cheese – lots of cheese! The after-credit scene is awesome. I took our 3 year old to see Boxtrolls four times, and even got my husband to join us for one of them.

It even inspired my 3 year old’s favorite costume:

boxtroll girl

Yep, she’s a Boxtroll. 🙂

Like all movies, it has triggers for some people. It touches on adoption, open adoption, what makes a family, being chased/caught, and fire. (But everything works out in the end. The only one who gets his comeuppance is the main bad guy.)

Keeping in the spirit of this blog, one of the reasons I love this movie is its theme song. It’s Little Boxes by Loch Lomond and you can listen to it here:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WJEemRtEFjo.

“Little boxes on the hillside / Little boxes made of ticky-tacky / Little boxes on the hillside / Little boxes all the same…”

"Little Boxes" - satirized image

An example of the middle-class housing satirized in “Little Boxes”: Levittown, Pennsylvania, one of the first major post-World War II housing developments in the United States.
(photo and caption credit to Wikipedia)

The original to that song was written by Malvina Reynolds, at age 62.  (Talk about being outside the box! She didn’t even begin composing until her late 40s.) You can listen to her version here:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2_2lGkEU4Xs.  You can learn more about Malvina Reynolds on her Wikipedia page.

But back to Boxtrolls. It’s great. Hand drawn backgrounds depicting Victorian England. Stop-motion filmed characters. Witty and satirical dialogue. Good triumphs over evil. And cheese.

Interested in buying any of these for Christmas? Here are links to these products on Amazon:

Boxtrolls Movie

Boxtrolls Soundtrack

Malvina Reynolds’ CD containing “Little Boxes”

 

 

 

 

Things I have actually had to say

I used to read all those blog posts about “things you learn when you have boys“, and laugh. I enjoyed them, but surely children who do and say those things are the exception rather than the rule, right?

HA! No. Here is my list of things I have actually heard come out of my mouth. You can imagine all the fun that preceeded me needing to say these things.

Take your bottom out of your brother’s face.
Do not use your brother for a chair.
Please do not fart in the bathwater.
Keep your poop to yourself.
No, you may not pee on your brother.

Stop playing with your penis and finish your bath.
Farts are not supposed to be funny.
Poop belongs in the toilet.
No, you may not both pee in the toilet at the same time.

Did you wipe?
Did you wipe?
Did you wipe?
Go back and wipe.

Do not climb the curtains.
Do not use the window frame to do pull-ups.
Punching the window is not a good idea.
Get off the top of the dresser.
Beds are not to be used as bumper cars.

No wrestling.
No wrestling.
No wrestling.
Stop touching each other.

Do not use your brother for target practice.
Books are not frisbees.
You may not bite people, not even when you are playing dinosaur.

Do not spit at your brother.
Do not spit at me.
Do not spit.
Keep your spit in your mouth.

And this list is not exhaustive! And it represents only 6 weeks with two preschoolers. I’m sure the coming weeks will have many more unexpected things coming out of my mouth. Stay tuned!

Foster parenting is complicated

Sometimes I just don’t know what to do.  When a child’s behavior is unacceptable… do I allow natural consequences to happen? Do I assign a punishment for the behavior? Do I write it down to address with the counselor because the behavior is based in past trauma? Do I let it pass without comment because in the larger scheme of things it not something I choose to address right now? Do I pull the child in for a long hug because the behavior is based in past hurt and shame and a need for appropriate attention from an adult? Do I do several of those choices?

And it is complicated even further by the sheer number of unacceptable behaviors that sometimes happen one right after the other. Before I have fully recognized the first and decided how to respond to it, there is a second. And a third. And sometimes a fourth. Sometimes they are an escalation of the first one, sometimes they are unrelated behaviors.

For instance, the boys may be eating breakfast cereal. One will spit a mouthful at his brother (or the cat, the dog, or the curtains). Obviously this means he isn’t hungry anymore, right? As I put down the milk and approach the table to calmly enforce the natural consequence of removing the cereal, the preschooler says “it’s YUCKY. Brother, you’re eating POOP cereal!”. Brother starts to cry and says “No, I’m not!”  OK, this is no longer a kid spitting out food because he’s not hungry, this is upsetting brother on purpose. But do I comfort brother and ignore the instigator? Or do I remove instigator from the table, and if I remove him do I simply send him to get dressed or do I send him to time-out for saying what he did? In the process of removing the cereal bowl and getting instigator down from his booster seat, brother (still crying) throws his entire bowl of cereal at the instigator, covering him, me, and the wall behind us. So now, do I continue with removing the original instigator, do I switch to comforting the brother who was obviously upset by the idea of eating poop, or do I now address the throwing of the cereal bowl?

You can see how things stack up quickly. What I just described can easily happen start to finish in 10 seconds or less. (And of course it isn’t finished.) And for those who are curious, the day I attended to the crying brother instead of the instigating brother did not help diffuse the situation any faster – it was just the instigating brother who got angry and threw the cereal bowl rather than the crying brother.

This is what foster parenting to children who have experienced WAY TOO MUCH TRAUMA in their lives is like. Every hour is a new crisis. Sometimes every 10 minutes is a new crisis. And sometimes they can go on for hours before I can break through and get a handle on just one little part of the crisis and defuse the situation.

Unfortunately, that handle that is available for me to grab on to might be different on different days. One day a child might hit his brother because he thinks he’s going to be hit first. Another day he might hit his brother because he is angry they are not playing the game he wanted to play. Another day he might hit his brother because he’s tired and grouchy and the brother happened to be the one there. And sometimes the way to grab the handle is laughter. Other times it is a quick reminder that the behavior will not be tolerated here. And still other times extending some grace and ignoring the behavior is the handle.

Preventing every possible reason for unacceptable behavior just isn’t possible. And neither is interrupting all unacceptable behavior. All that is left is finding how to respond to it – and realizing that responding in the exact right way every time isn’t possible either. It takes a mixture of all of these.

No parent is perfect. No parent can prevent everything. No parent can correctly respond to everything. And parenting kids exposed to trauma just makes the job exponentially harder, like a math equation. (Normal child behaviors) times (types and amounts of trauma experienced) times (siblings who feed off each others’ behavior) times (previous experiences where unacceptable behavior got good results for the child) = a crazy complicated time of trying to heal the children.

Internet privacy vs internet support

A month ago, I was grieving the loss of one of my foster children. Our foster home was empty. But foster homes rarely stay empty for long! We have two new boys, brothers, both preschoolers. We’ve had them for a couple weeks now, and I have delayed posting about them. Nicknames haven’t come easily for them. And I did not know how to post about the struggles I am having with them, while still respecting their privacy.

Things on the internet don’t disappear! Even if I deleted a post from here, or deleted my blog entirely, there are ways my posts could still be read. Perhaps someone copied it. Perhaps someone emailed it to themselves. Search engines keep copies of pages in their records for indeterminate amounts of time. For that matter, the beginning of each post is included in the email you receive if you subscribed to receive my posts by email.

Obviously, nothing I say about my foster children is in any way identifying. Unless you already know the child personally, nothing I say would enable you to pick the child out of a crowd.

But thinking 20 years down the line… adults who used to be children in foster care do know themselves personally, and it is entirely possible that one of my previous foster children may find my blog and … recognize themselves. The dates will line up. Ages will line up. Descriptions… positive or negative… will line up. What do I want my former foster children to read about themselves? What attitude toward them do I want to display for them to read later? What amount of information is fair for me to share about them in a public forum?

And yet, the internet is also a wonderful source of support! I love the comments of support that I get, the suggestions, the encouragement. And I don’t want to give that up. If I gave it up, I wouldn’t be as good of a foster mother. (“Put on your own oxygen mask before helping those around you.”)

So, I am seeking a middle ground. My blog posts will have a different tone to them. Mostly, I will not be providing the details that I provided with the two toddler kids I had in months previous to this. The children I have now are … challenging … to say the least. Their stories are heartbreaking. Their family is shattered. Their behaviors reflect this. It’s their reality.

My reality right now is being punched. Kicked. Spit on. Called names. Sworn at. Replacing broken light fixtures.

But my reality is also holding a child while he sobs because he misses his family and is old enough to articulate that while seeking comfort from me. My reality is having a valentine heart made for me by one of them. My reality is wearing a pipecleaner “bow” in my hair all evening because one of the children made it for me. My reality is a child who never tried stir-fry declaring it “yum” and asking for seconds, please!

I will take extra precautions in safeguarding these children’s identities. I will still post about my home, and about the struggles my husband and I face being foster parents to them. But I won’t give nicknames for them, and I won’t even state their ages. They’ll be “the preschoolers” or “one of the preschoolers”. And in every post I will make it abundantly clear that I love them. I am an adult, and I can love who I choose to love. I choose to love these children, and to display that love through my actions.

Twenty years from now, I hope I can show these posts to the (former) preschoolers, and have them know that despite how they acted, they were loved, and no matter what they did, the love was stronger than their behaviors.

The end was like the beginning

The first month DC was with us, he couldn’t fall asleep. New place, new crib, new faces, it was all so unfamiliar to him that as soon as he relaxed enough that sleep was possible, all the strangeness rushed in and he’d wake up again, crying. I’d go to him, pat his back if that’s all he needed, or pick him up and rock him. Whatever it took to let him feel more secure and more love. Sometimes I’d be rocking and gently bouncing him, sitting on the corner of the guest room bed, for hours.

That was true the first month that DC was with us, back in July. I was up all hours of the night when he would wake up in a strange place and begin to cry.

And that was true again this past weekend, which was DC’s last weekend with us. I don’t know how he knew what was going on, but he was unsettled again, wanting to be held, and crying when he would not fall asleep instantly. Today he moves to live with his uncle, aunt, and cousins. They are the lucky ones who will get to cuddle him forever.

Maybe he knew *I* needed it. I needed those extra cuddles these last few days, too. I needed hours spent on the exercise ball, lights out, bouncing gently, whispering “I love you”. I needed those little arms reaching up out of the crib, asking for a hug.

I will miss being his mother.

God speed, little DC. May you grow strong in the house with your relatives. May you learn to trust them the way you trusted us. And may God bring us new children who need to be loved, rocked, hugged, and cuddled long into the night. You trained us well, and we’re ready for them.

 

When God says “Don’t do it”

I think that most of us have had the experience of doing or saying something and almost immediately having a realization of “I shouldn’t have done that”.

For me, it’s almost always accompanied by a heavy sinking feeling in my stomach as I realize that whatever I just did or said was most definitely the wrong thing, and that it has implications and ripples far beyond what I had anticipated, and that it is not being received or understood in the way I had intended.  It was just flat-out the wrong thing for me to do.

In conversations with friends, I have sometimes commented that it would be nice if instead of that sinking feeling afterward, if I had some sort of early-warning system instead to PREVENT me from saying or doing the wrong thing.

Well, in God I do.

That doesn’t mean it’s easy. And sometimes I ignore Him and plow ahead and do something dumb anyway. Sometimes I allow logic and good intentions to drown out His voice and end up astonished that things did not work well.

But when I’m quiet, and prayerful, and I listen for His still, small voice, I can save myself (and others) from my own bullheadedness.

God may prompt you to bake some cookies for a neighbor. Or drop a little-used coat off at a charity drive. Or put an extra $5 in the offering plate at church. Those are easy to understand, and in most cases easy to do, and they often come with a human reason as to why they are important. In my own life I have one wonderful story about a time God prompted me to do something, and showed me why. I was going to Ecuador on a sponsor tour/missions trip. We had been told to pack work gloves for a day we would spend working at one of the projects. And somehow to me it felt very important to find exactly the right kind of work gloves. I have hands that are difficult to fit with gloves. My palms are small, and my fingers long. I knew I wanted leather gloves, not stretchy fabric ones, and that made the hunt even harder. I probably spent 16 or more hours looking for just the right gloves. I visited every big box store and hardware/building store in my city. I felt driven to find exactly the right ones. Finally I settled on a pair. Solid leather, with fingers the right length, palms a little wide but that was OK, and a velcro wrap-around on the wrist so they would not slide off. They cost much more than I had wanted to pay, but they were wonderful and worth it.

I arrived in Ecuador, and enjoyed the trip very much. We arrived at our work day and I was shocked. I was not on the work crew at all. I was assigned to the CLEANING crew. A whole day working not with lumber and hammers, but with soap and water and mops. My leather work gloves were useless for working with water. Water would stretch the leather, keeping it from being able to protect my hands. The stretched out leather would rub, and leave me with blisters. I was disappointed, and irritated that I had thought buying those gloves was so important, and I stuck them back in my bag and went to work bare handed with the mop.

Fast forward a couple of days to the day I would meet my sponsored child. I was packing a backpack in my hotel room to give to her, and I came across my leather gloves in my luggage. I could not return them; I had removed all the labeling. So I tossed them into the backpack and hoped my sponsored child’s family would have a use for them. Meeting my sponsored child and her mother was WONDERFUL. Simply wonderful. After lunch we sat down at the park and I gave her the backpack of gifts for her and her family. She dug in to the backpack, exclaiming over the useful and girlish things I had packed – the school supplies, the hair accessories. She quickly handed over the kitchen utensils and leather gloves to her mother and continued exclaiming over the rest. After a moment I noticed that the mother was crying. I asked her why, and learned why I had felt it so important to purchase those leather gloves. Two months before, the family’s house had caught on fire and burned down. The family was OK, and they were staying in a tent on the property, still all together. The extended family had banded together and were slowly buying enough cinder blocks for the mother to rebuild her house, but the mother had been struggling because the work part of the project was up to her – and moving the cinderblocks by hand had been hurting her hands, leaving them abraded and with small cuts. She could not do much work with the cinderblocks at any one time, or she would put her job as washer woman and maid in jeopardy.

I had given her leather work gloves. Gloves that exactly fit her small Ecuadorian hands with exceptionally long fingers.

Sometimes God shows us in no uncertain terms that he knows exactly what he is doing.

I often hear sermons asking “What does God want you to do?” – I believe that it is just as important to ask “What does God NOT want you to do?” Sometimes it entails just listening to that voice that says “no” or “stop”, or “don’t say that” or “stop talking now”.

Just as easily as he can prompt us to do good, he can prompt us to avoid evil. He can prompt us not to share that gossip you heard about a neighbor. Or not to buy that oh-so-beautiful but out-of-budget item. Again, many of these are things that we can see the benefit in. That doesn’t make them always easy to do, but when we listen to God and choose to stop ourselves, we are aware that listening has benefitted us.

But sometimes what He tells us flies in the face of what we believe to be right. But which is ultimately “right” – God, who knows all and sees all, or us humans, who know little and see little? That is so hard to remember and to do in practice.

How experienced are you in listening for God’s voice? Can you discern what He is saying even when it does not align with what you believe is the “right” thing to do?

What if you had a coat in your car you intended to drop off at a charity on your way home from work, and you had a strange moment where you thought maybe God did not want you to do that. Which would win – the logic of dropping off a coat here you knew it could be used for good, or the belief that God wanted you to do something else? How long would you spend arguing in your head between the logic you believed and the voice you thought you heard, before picking one?

I’ve been working on this a lot lately. There are so many “good” things that I can do, but which are the things I am *supposed* to do? Knowing that there are only some that I am supposed to do means that there are some that I am being told not to do. Sometimes God does tell us not to do something we believe to be good. He has something better in mind, but we have to believe Him, and obey Him by not doing that thing we think is good, before we can get to it. If we stay too busy doing things that “we think” are good, we can miss the things that “He KNOWS” are right. In the example of the coat, perhaps if you listen and hold on to it for just a day or two longer, you may have the privilege of handing it directly to a person who needs it. Who knows? Only God.

God is never taken by surprise. He knows all the possibilities, all the implications, and all the ripples. He KNOWS what is best. But are we listening to him?

That still, small voice of God can be hard to hear in our busy world. What do you do to ensure that you can hear Him? What has He told you to do? What has He told you NOT to do? Have you been blessed with knowing the reason for his instructions, like I was in Ecuador? Or are you still just trusting Him, knowing that He knows best?

Why does Santa treat different families differently?

I have heard this question, in all its forms, so many times. A child whose family can barely put food on the table wonders why she received a hat and scarf from Santa when her schoolmate received a most-coveted Rainbow Loom and dozens of packets of circlets. Another family wonders why Santa skips his house, not understanding the differences between his Christian neighbors’ celebration of Christmas complete with Santa, and his on Jewish family’s decision to celebrate only Hanukkah. Another family struggles to explain how Santa left footprints on their friends’ fireplace and reindeer poop in their yard, while leaving no sign of his presence at their house besides the presents.

All parents must decide how to explain Santa, at some point. The man in the red suit who shows up in the mall, on decorations, and in movies must somehow be explained to little ears who want to know who he is. This post is for those families who are willing for their children to believe in Santa, whether you include him in your celebrations or not.

In the world of adoption and foster care, the questions are sometimes even harder.

A child who was abused by her babysitter’s boyfriend might say: “NOOOOOO! I don’t WANT a strange man to come into my house. MOMMY NO! You said this house was SAFE and noone could get me!”

A 3rd grade boy struggling with ADHD and low self-esteem might say: “Dad, I’m sorry. I forgot my homework at school. I’m so stupid! I can’t remember anything right! I’m gonna get coal in my stocking.”

A child in foster care for the first time might burst into tears at the sight of Santa in a book and sob “Why couldn’t Santa find me last year? Mommy said he couldn’t find us so couldn’t give me my presents. Why couldn’t he find me? Will he find me this year?”

Or on the other hand, a child who was in foster care last year, who you have adopted might wonder: “Why didn’t Santa bring presents this year? Why do I have to write thank-you notes to grandparents? Santa brought all the gifts when I lived in my other home!”

The stakes are so much higher when you are parenting abused or neglected children, or ones who have memories of different homes and different parents in years past. Regardless of your personal beliefs about Santa and how much “reality” to use when explaining him, sometimes children arrive in our homes with opinions and past experiences that have shaped how they already think about him.

Noone reading this blog is going to insist to that abused child that Santa will come down the chimney, unknown to even the adults, in the face of such “stranger in my home” fear. But especially if there are other children in the home who expect Santa’s visit, just how do you handle it? Or the child who was accustomed to Santa before, if you do not celebrate him in your house? Or the child to whom you have to explain Santa’s absence and the parent’s fib last year, whether or not you have him at your house?

Many years ago I read a story about one little girl’s fear of the Tooth Fairy. She desperately wanted the dollar the Tooth Fairy would leave if she put her tooth under her pillow, but equally desperately she wanted to save her tooth to show her mom at next week’s visit. Her dad was a smart one, and said he’d talk to the Tooth Fairy and make a deal with her so that his little girl got her dollar AND got to show her mom the tooth. And suddenly, peace reigned at their house.

Can we do that with Santa Claus? Can we, as parents, decide that not only do we each get to celebrate Santa (or not) in our own way, but also explain to our children that it is the parents’ decision that makes Santa do what he does?

I propose a Santa Contract. Each family makes their own, and takes ownership of it. In one family the contract can state that Santa brings the most wished-for items. In another family, it may state that Santa brings the most needed items. When I was growing up, our family’s contract would have stated that Santa would bring identical items for each of the children, since that is what we received each year. Another family’s contract may state that Santa not leave presents at their home, because they choose to give gifts to each other themselves.

The Santa Contract can also state where the gifts may be left. Sure, it’s often fun to think of Santa sliding down the chimney, but it is no less wonderful to receive gifts discovered on the back porch if that is where your contract said to look! (And this eases the fears of children who do not want strangers in their home while they are sleeping.)

A contract with Santa can also take care of “mistakes” he made in the past. I know of one family who adopted two little girls from Tanzania, who were sad that this Santa they had heard of had never visited their orphanage – that they had been so “forgotten”. On their first Christmas, under the tree Christmas morning were multiple presents for each girl – one for each year of their lives. They were labeled with their names, and the year they would have received them. So in the package marked “first year” each girl received a rattle. In the one marked “second year” each received a pair of baby shoes. And so on. Santa also left a note that explained that houses in Tanzania don’t have numbers or names on them, so he couldn’t know where each girl lived. That he loves everyone, and now that they have parents and now that he does know where they live, he wanted them to know that he had always remembered and never forgotten them. What a boost to a little child’s way of thinking about their worth!

This little idea can not fix everything. No single idea can. But if you are struggling with your child’s questions about Santa and the different treatment they notice around them, it may be something to consider. Because we each want our children to feel loved, and valued, and keep them from unnecessary trauma, don’t we? And even if Santa is just a game in your home, it’s never fun to miss your turn in a game, so this Santa Contract idea may be one way to make past hurts feel a little less sharp.

I hope this helps someone, in at least some small way.

When it rains, it pours (aka: the week of teething, and chickenpox, and several other things)

Being a mom is lovely, absolutely lovely. I wouldn’t trade it for anything. Keep your corporate job, keep your million dollars, I’ll keep my stay at home with two toddlers life. Seriously. I waited so long to be able to rock children to sleep that I’ll keep it and love it  even during the phases everyone dreads.

Have I mentioned on here that we have two toddlers now? Two boys, 17 days apart in age but worlds apart in development. One walks, runs, and climbs. The other is still cruising the furniture. One is trying out sign language and is very close to talking. The other has the Early Childhood Intervention people visiting because he is not making any strides toward communicating at all. One is 2’8″ and 30 lbs. The other is 2’3″ and 23 lbs. But both have light brown hair and blue eyes, and the most charming smiles!

If you know anything about adoption, you know that artificially twinning children is a bad idea. I would not have done it if this second child were not a short term placement. But he is – he has an adoptive family already identified! They just haven’t finished their training yet, but everyone is waiting for them because they already adopted two of this toddler’s siblings a couple years ago. So adopting him will bring the family of children together again. And that is worth a lot of waiting and a lot of bother. And because he has delays, having a same age sibling to identify with and to copy for a couple months just might help him out. So we agreed to do it.

The good news is the copying theory seems to be working out just fine. Our first child, DittoChild (DC), does something like take a toy and walk off with it, and our second child, Chipmunk, gets upset and starts cruising the furniture even faster in an attempt to catch up to DC and take the toy from him. Good workout for him.

The downside is really just about me. Because having two children the same age means two children going through things at the same time – like teething. Oi! I hate teething. With a passion. One question I’ll definitely have for God when I get to heaven is why he invented it! I mean, our head produces strands of hair without pain, why can’t our gums produce teeth without pain??? I’m sure he has a reason, but sheesh – I do not know what it is! My mom laughs and says I get to experience all the typical parenting headaches on fast forward because of the ages of these two children.

And now it looks like I get to experience a child with chickenpox. It might be hand/foot/mouth, or some other blister-causing virus… but chickenpox is the leading theory. We’ll know more Monday, 3 days after the first of the high fever and spots. So far just two blisters, and a bunch of red pinpoint sized dots. You know, the doctor at Urgent Care hasn’t seen a case of chickenpox in YEARS – all because most children are vaccinated for it nowadays. We went to Urgent Care because Chipmunk got a fever that spiked very quickly to 105.5 degrees. Noticing the blisters was just icing on that cake. At least I left with doctor’s prescription for how to administer tylenol to a child too small for the smallest dosage on the package – stuff like that gets really sticky when dealing with foster children. It’s always best to just have a doctor write it down and then it’s suddenly OK to give it. A recommendation over the phone is not nearly as official.

So by Monday we’ll know for sure, supposedly. Which means Monday I get to call all the professionals we saw on Friday and tell them what they were exposed to – because Fridays around here are “professionals” days. This week we had the Early Childhood Intervention people out, and the CASA rep. I’m sure I’m not the only person to tell them they’ve been exposed to something, though! It’s probably a professional risk they know about all too well.

So Monday’s schedule includes:
calling for a doctor’s appointment,
going to the doctor’s appointment,
emailing Chipmunk’s worker to say what he has,
griping to Chipmunk’s worker about being told he was up to date on vaccinations when I was told at Urgent Care that he’s 6 months behind,
emailing DC’s worker to tell her what he’s been exposed to,
talking to the medical transportation reimbursement people,
calling the ECI and CASA to tell them what they were exposed to on Friday.
And oh yeah – calling my brother to tell him we probably won’t make it to HIS WEDDING this week. (Oi, that one’s gonna hurt. But if Chipmunk has chickenpox, then we can’t bring him and doubt we could find a babysitter OK with it. So it is what it is.)

I can’t find out until Monday whether DC is vaccinated for chickenpox. He should be, but then again Chipmunk should have been, too. I’m not a proponent of the chickenpox vaccine, in my opinion it is still too new to have documented all side effects so parents can make truly educated decisions for their children. But being in foster care, I am not given a choice about vaccines. I must have them done on schedule. MUST. So now we have to deal with a catch-up schedule for Chipmunk as soon as he’s over this illness.

So: Now I lay me down to sleep,
I pray the Lord my soul to keep,
may my kids sleep through the night,
and wake up with fevers LIGHT.

Bless mommy, daddy, Chipmunk and DC.
May all involved adults make the decisions for these children that are in their best interests. And may they wake up healthier and happier than they went to sleep.

Amen