A potty trainer who needs to poop (but can’t or won’t tell you they need to poop), and a nice relaxing bubble bath with their sibling… Okay, I’ll stop with the poop theme now. Sorry. It’s just, some days it seems my entire life revolves around poop.
A bowl of apples on the table, and a hungry toddler who has learned to climb.
See what I mean? We could go on like this for days. The point is: Babies and toddlers and the real world . . . a messy, dangerous, but hilarious combination. No wonder we’re so tired. Let’s all go take a nap.
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I recently did a fun devotion time with some children at church, about the importance of listening, and I thought I’d pass it along.
We centered the discussion and activities around James 1:19:
“Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry.” We started by reading the scripture and discussing the question, Why is it important to listen before we speak?
Activity #1: The world is talking . . . are you listening?
I took the kids outside, and we all sat quietly for a few minutes, trying to pick out as many different sounds as possible. We listed all the different sounds we heard—several different kinds of birds, a siren, the wind rustling leaves, a car engine, a motorcycle, laughter, an air conditioner. We talked about how much we miss when we aren’t paying attention, or when we are talking so much that we don’t take the time to listen.
Activity #2: Ready, set, listen!
Next, the kids lined up, and I gave them a list of several specific things to do in order, things like: “Run to the fence, spin around in a circle, then run back and sit down at the picnic table with your hands folded,” or “Pat your stomach three times, touch your toes, and shout your favorite color.” We started with only two actions, and worked our way up to four. (With older kids you could go higher than this.) Then the kids took turns giving each other instructions. (They really enjoyed being in charge of the group!) Kevin and I have tried a similar activity at home with our kids, with a twist: We let each of our kids take turns receiving their own set of instructions. They each got a list of three to five specific actions to perform around the house (most of them were very silly things, like “Grab one of your sister’s T-shirts and wear it on your head”). It was more challenging this way, because they couldn’t follow the group—they had to listen and remember the instructions all by themselves. You can add another fun dimension to the activity by adding a time limit.
Activity #3: Feel the rhythm
Last, we sat at the table with our hands in front of us and created complex rhythms one step at a time, building patterns by slapping and thumping the table with our palms and fists. We might start by bumping our fists once on the table, then adding two hand slaps, then two claps, building the rhythm as long as we could until we were all laughing and confused.
After all the games, we revisited our theme scripture and talked again about reasons why it is important to listen, and to listen well. God gives us important instructions or lessons in the Bible that we need to take the time to hear. If we’re too busy, we might miss his instructions for how to live our lives. Sometimes our parents give us a list of instructions to do at home, to keep us safe or to keep the household running—if we don’t stop to listen, we will miss important details. Sometimes our friends have something important to say about how they are feeling, and we hurt their feelings if we don’t pay attention.
Listening is a skill that doesn’t come naturally to most children (or most adults, for that matter!)—it must be taught. And as children mature, they need to learn not just to bite their tongue and wait their turn to speak, but to listen with emotional intelligence—to hear and acknowledge the feelings other people express, to learn to ask sensitive questions that draw out other people’s thoughts and feelings, to adjust their own responses in conversation based on how their words make people feel.
Devotions like this are fun and simple, but they make a big difference in teaching our kids to apply Scripture to their daily life. Times like these bring God’s word to life, making it fun and relevant, and show children all the ways that “the word of God is living and active” (Hebrews 4:12).
All six of us woke up late—we had already started easing into slack summer bedtimes a few days early, and we all slept in.
So the last morning of school turned into a whirlwind of cereal-shoveling and lunch-packing and gift-wrapping, all to a frantic soundtrack:
“Please tell me someone found that library book!”
“Quick, tie a bow around that teacher gift!”
“Mommy, did you remember to buy water bottles?”
“I forgot—just grab your broken Thermos.”
“Mommy, you promised!”
“WHERE’S MY SHOE?”
We stumbled out the door, a flurry of backpacks and uncombed hair and teacher gifts with bows half-tied. We made it just in time.
After the kids sprinted to class, I knocked on the door of my son’s second-grade classroom for the last time, to deliver his teacher a gift from her students: a framed photo collage, our attempt to preserve a memory so she could keep it forever.
This spring she had organized a 24-hour “Skype-a-thon.” Mrs. L and her students camped out for 24 hours at school, Skyping other classrooms in time zones they could never contact during normal school hours. Mrs. L found a way to stretch class time long enough so her students could meet other children across the globe.
Overnight she helped her students “travel” to every time zone, to places few will ever visit in person—to Palestine, Nepal, South Africa, Australia, Malaysia, Belgium… 27 countries and 3 U.S. States in all. In those wondrous 24 hours my son and his friends met other students “face-to-face,” talking school and history and favorite soccer teams. They giggled and shared and built bridges, one cinderblock classroom to another, on cheap computers with unreliable Internet signals—but they did it. They pulled it off. She pulled it off.
It was a herculean feat, a one-of-a-kind, world’s-first type event. It was worthy of a photo collage, and so much more—maybe a World’s Best Teacher award, or better yet a Nobel Peace Prize. In lieu of a Nobel Prize, Mrs. L’s students did the best they could: they made a photo collage. The pictures were blurry, taken by weary parents with cell phones in the middle of the night; the kids’ signatures were sloppy, scrawled in their second-grade style… but somehow Mrs. L got teary-eyed anyway. I left to the sound of happy chatter, as she tried to hold on to a few last hours with her students.
But halfway across the school parking lot, I stopped, stricken. I’d forgotten to photograph the moment. I’d been so caught up in it—wanting her to feel our gratitude, wishing the kids could fully grasp this great experience she had given them, this lifelong gift—that I forgot to take a picture to memorialize the memorializing. I stood debating: Should I go back and interrupt, waste their dwindling class time, embarrass my son for the sake of posterity? Or just let it go?
I decided to let it go, but the memory-maker inside me died a little.
And so there will be no Last Day of School picture of my son with his second-grade teacher and the gift we gave her. (Really, the gift she gave him.)
And thanks to our family’s hectic morning, there will be no cute split-screen, first day-last day pictures of my kids on social media, the ones that show how much they’ve grown during the school year. There just wasn’t time.
And that’s the trouble with time, and with childhood… there’s never enough. Not during the school day. Not on the last day of school, or the first, or even in the summer. Because even today, with six vacation weeks stretching out ahead of us, sparkling with possibility, I feel the tug of the real-life calendar: the work that still has to be done, the summer reading list I should probably enforce, the dozens of fun family memories we want to cram into such a short span.
And sad as I feel today about the last day of school, in six weeks I know I’ll be mourning the end of another blink-of-an-eye summer, wishing for more. Wishing for more lazy mornings; for more days that end with sand in the bathtub and wet towels on the floor; for more long stormy afternoons when everyone’s bored and it’s all I can do to keep them off electronics and using their imaginations instead. Those days too will fade, faster than they should.
And how should we have spent that last day of kindergarten, second, and third grades? Should we have gotten up a little earlier? Rushed a little faster, pushed a little harder to do it all right, take the pictures, mark the moment?
Because the thing is, on that last morning, somehow the kids made it to school with clothes on—clothes that weren’t photo-worthy, but were perfect for one final romp on the playground with friends. All the teachers got gifts from the heart, and most of the gifts even had crooked bows on them. And all my kids had lunches in hand—composed of weird, end-of-the-paycheck-so-the-pantry-is-bare kind of foods—but still, food. More food than some of the students we met in the Skype-a-thon will ever see in their lunchboxes.
My kids rushed out the door that last-day morning, true to youth. Rushing, rushing—over too quickly, gone too soon.
No, I didn’t stop to photograph it, this fleeting childhood moment… instead we fumbled it together, raced through it together, tried to make each other laugh when we all felt like crying. I didn’t photograph it, but I experienced it with them, as present as time would allow.
Maybe that’s the way our morning should have gone after all.
It’s the way I hope our summer goes, minus the running late part: all of us together, trundling along in a sandy minivan, off to make a mess, and maybe new friends, in a new place. Embracing the chaos, forgetting to take pictures because there isn’t time for anything but each other—anything but now, this moment, this memory-in-progress. Making the most of what time we have. Knowing that even if we stopped to take pictures, they’d turn out blurry anyway.