Tuesday, 29 October 2013


My tips for visiting museums with boys.

1. Practice speed walking before you go.  You will need to follow them everywhere, and they will not walk slowly, appreciating the history.

2. Don't attempt to read any of the information signs.  If you are good at the art of dressing up boring activities, you can try to make the information sound fun but usually it will backfire.

3. Prepare some useful answers for questions about 'buttock ornaments' and naked statues.

4. Try your hardest to keep out of sight of the museum staff, especially when the boys are lying on the floor hooting at the people below through the vents in the floor.

5. Don't try to be a history teacher.  While you are impressing yourself by explaining the intricacies of the Aztecs, they will be wandering off climbing the totem pole.

6. Smile at the people fortunate enough to be visiting without children.  If you smile, they will be more forgiving when the boys push past them to see the bows and arrows or shout 'you can see that statue's bum cheeks!'

7. Walk through the inevitable 'you have to exit through it' gift shop as quickly as possibly shouting 'NO, NO, NO, NO, NO' until the boys realise you will not be buying them yet another wooden sword or fake gemstone.

8. Remember that one day you can go back and visit everything in your own leisure, including reading all the information signs.

Friday, 25 October 2013

Finding Perspective

Frustrated again at the half Lego body lying, decapitated on the bathroom floor; the toilet seat that miraculously seems to have wee on it  ("it wasn't me, I ALWAYS wipe it up" hmmm) and the overflowing cardboard box in the kitchen which is for me to put in junk left lying around the house but has become a new place to keep it instead, I wonder at the 'difficulties' of my life and try to keep perspective.

I sigh over the stains on the white shirt which haven't come out in the wash (and I did use Ariel - they're not whiter than white, after all) and remind myself that somewhere out there in the world is a child whose clothes have never been inside a washing machine.  Somewhere there is a child who may not have clothes at all.

Wondering yet again how we are going to help Max to control his temper after another explosive outburst this morning, I remember that some children don't have a mum or dad to help them learn self control.  What will become of them?

Feeling irritated at the boy's obsession with money and their focus on constantly saving up for things, I think about the children who are sent to work at the same age as my little ones.  Exploited and prohibited from having a proper childhood, these tinies work long hours for not even half of my boy's weekly pocket money.  They can't 'save up for things' because the money is needed for basic essentials.  Forced to be adults before their time, these children don't know how it feels to have a new toy car or Lego kit they've been watching on eBay for weeks.  They don't even hope or dream for such things.

I feel shut out of my boy's lives when I walk into a room while they are dressing, only for them to cover themselves up.  "I changed your nappies!" I exclaim to them.  "All your body parts grew inside me!"  Embarrassing, I know.  Then I remember how many children out there don't have the opportunity to cover up.  Their bodies are infiltrated, abused, ravaged by adults who use them for their own disgusting pleasure.  Some of their bodies are even used to make money, when they should be wrapped up in their pj's and snuggled under cuddly blankets with those who love them.  

The screen battle is my consant war.  "Go outside!" I shout at them. "It's a beautiful day!" I think about the children who not only don't have screens, but are kept inside all day and night, a prisoner to someone else's demands.  No fresh air, no footballs, no pooh sticks over a bridge.  Just the never ending story of being held captive.

Racing up and down the stairs at bedtime, I wonder if the boys will ever go to sleep and give me some peace.  What excuses will they think up next to call me from their beds?  "I can hear a scratching", "I've just figured out that conkers go mouldy really quickly", "Max's teeth scare me" to name but a few. And then I remind myself that for some children, bedtime is the most terrifying of all.  Not knowing whether they will wake again the next morning, they go to sleep in fear of their lives and the lives of their family.  Some children, fleeing the violence, don't have a bed to sleep in or even a mummy to tuck them in and stroke their hair.  

I feel bored of our meals.  I look at 'family meals recipes' online to try and find something more interesting for us to eat.  And then I remember that some children are grateful for the same food day in, day out because otherwise they might not have any food at all.  

And so, I try to put my own worries and frustrations into perspective.  There's a whole world out there that needs us.  Sometimes it's good to lift our head from our own busy little lives and take a daring peek at what the lives of others look like.  It might just propel us into action.

Thursday, 10 October 2013


As I approach Toby's twelfth (I have to breathe deeply at this point) birthday, I wonder whether as parents we are working out the vision and aims we had when he was a baby.  It's a psychological truth that if you aim for nothing, you will hit nothing.  The Bible puts it in another, more dramatic way, in the book of Proverbs: 'When there is no vision, the people perish.'

And so, attempting to understand this in our 'new-parent-shocked-exhausted' state, we decided there and then that we would bring our boy (and subsequent boys....  oh, how little we knew of what was to come) up to be a radical follower of Jesus, obeying him despite the cost.  As a baby, instead of a christening, we dedicated him to God.  For us, this meant saying thank you to God for him and then giving him back.  Toby is on loan to us and as his parents we have been commissioned to train and disciple him.  He's not ours to keep, he's ours to prepare.

In light of these thoughts, we made these promises at his dedication (and for Max and Jonah too), based on the words used in the Salvation Army.  These are promises we did not make lightly, but much thought and soul-searching went into them.

“If you wish the Lord to take possession of the soul and body of this child, Toby, that he shall only and always do His will, you must be willing that he should spend all his life in the service of Christ wherever God may choose to send him; even if he should be despised, hated, cursed, beaten, kicked, imprisoned, or killed for Christ’s sake. 

Whilst living out God’s purposes for his life he will know the unending and unconditional love of God, the peace that passes all understanding; and the joy of having an intimate relationship with God as his father, friend and counsellor. 

You must let him see in you an example of what a Christian ought to be, serving God with all your heart, soul and mind.  You must keep as far from Toby as you can every influence likely to injure him in either soul or body; and teach and train him to the best of your ability to be a faithful servant of Christ.

Do you wish to surrender your child to God in this way?”

“We do.” 

“In the name of Jesus, we take Toby who has been fully given up by his parents to God and for the salvation of the world.”
Of course, our role ever since has been to model living this way to our boys.  I wonder how well we are doing at this and want to make sure that I am doing everything I can to prepare my boys for the exciting plans God has for them.  Being a Christian parent doesn't mean making sure they go to a good Sunday School or teaching good values (although this is important too) it means modelling being an obedient and radical follower of Jesus so that our children will see, in us, how to live.  It means we base all our decision making on our obedience to God, and not on whatever the consequences might be.  It means making sacrifices and sometimes being uncomfortable.  It means having a peace that doesn't quite fit with the circumstances.  It means finding true joy instead of fleeting happiness.
For me, there is no better vision for my boys than seeing God's plans fulfilled in their lives and watching them serve him wholeheartedly.  I don't want them to navigate their lives without a vision, watching them perish with the crushing weight of indecision.  I want to instil in them a passion for the One who makes everything (pain, difficulties, hardships) worthwhile.   
And so, after 12 fleeting, manic, slow, enlightening, exhausting but satisfying years, I am doing a parental and spiritual stock-take, ensuring we are following the track we set out for ourselves at the beginning.  What's your vision for your children?