Sunday, October 31, 2010

Trick or Treat?

There is a pretty drastic divide among my brothers and sisters in Christ over the topic of Halloween. Some see it as a benign celebration of candy and dress up, a nice treat. Others see it as a sinister day of occult rituals and Satanism, a demonic trick on unsuspecting innocents. Some fall in between.

We never celebrated the Día de los Muertos when I was small. After coming to the US, the first year we did do Halloween. I dressed up as Big Bird. My parents divorced, and my mom thought that dressing up was OK as long as we didn't do anything scary or evil. I was Strawberry Shortcake the next year.

When my parents got back together, my dad got a lot of material from Gothard and others talking about the dark side of Halloween (and just about everything else). It went into detail about pagan celebrations, child sacrifices and all sorts of grisly things. The same sources found evil aspects of just about any aspect of popular culture, including Strawberry Shortcake, My Little Ponies, any music that was not written expressly as worship music (or written in a minor key, or after the 1800's, or not classical march time, or...). Don't even get me started about the night we burned our Cabbage Patch dolls. Even "Hallelujah parties" or church "Fall festival" celebrations were viewed with suspicion, as being imitators of the world and watered-down Halloween.

I appreciate the desire for holiness and the willingness to obey God in small things. I agree that as Christians we should abhor evil. I also believe that God may convict my fellow Christians on an individual basis about participating in this and many other things. My intent is truly not to mock them.

However, as Carlos and I have talked and prayed about this for our family, we have not felt impressed with the same beliefs on this as I had growing up. So this year, for the very first time, our kidlets are dressing up and trick or treating. We did Hallowmarine at the aquarium last night with their cousin and had a great time! Ariana dressed as a bobbysoxer, Joel as Captain America, Elena as Spidergirl and our little primo as the Great Pumpkin. :) I thought all the costumes were very cute and appropriate to their personalities. Tonight they are going to dress up again (different costumes) and visit some of the neighborhood houses.

This isn't a new issue, of course. The early church dealt extensively with candy that had been offered to idols (er, something like that). I Corinthians has several relevant passages. So does Colossians 2. I would encourage any believers to read them on their own. What I have understood from them is that the only objection, as long as my motives are right, is in possibly causing my brothers to stumble. I truly am not aware of any way that our actions regarding Halloween will cause others to fall. So I am OK with them.

I've heard several objections:
origins of Halloween/paganism--Honestly, nearly every component of any celebration has at times been used in pagan worship. The church has also used nearly all of these things to worship God. Our hearts are to honor God, and I believe that He is pleased that our family is having fun together in this.

Scary stuff--Our kids haven't expressed a desire to dress up as anything particularly scary, but I actually see some cool symbolism in the way that we can face and overcome fear. This is such an individual thing (Ariana is terrified by things that surprise me at times, yet loves our neighbor's lighted Ghost Rider display).

Sugar overload--Kind of agree with this one. We might do the Candy Fairy (like the Tooth Fairy, only she takes away candy and leaves something like a coloring book or stickers). Last night they were fine with me telling them that I would put it away and they could only have a couple of pieces each day. They have had food restrictions from allergies for so long that they totally get the concept of food making them feel icky.

There are probably many other objections (feel free to leave comments). But for us, this isn't "the Devil's day". This day, and all others, belong to our Father. This is the day that the Lord has made, and we will rejoice and be glad. And eat chocolate.

Monday, October 25, 2010

No comprendo: helping your children be bilingual, even if they don't want to be

Spanish was my first language. Although I learned English from the beginning as well, I had an accent and was more comfortable in Spanish when I was small. After we moved to the US, though, my parents stopped speaking Spanish at home, and I gradually forgot it. I always knew it was still in there somewhere, though. I began to study it in college and eventually wound up switching from pre-med to Spanish and I've been teaching it for well over a decade now.

My husband also grew up with both languages, Spanish first and then English, and has been a Spanish professor for more than a decade. It was a foregone conclusion that our children would be bilingual.

It started off well. I spoke Spanish almost exclusively to the children until Ariana was around four. Her Spanish was excellent, as was her English. Then she suddenly started showing a strong preference for English, using it all the time and answering us in English. If you are bilingual, you know how much effort it takes to keep a conversation going in two languages. We got lazy and began answering back in English, and in an amazingly short time, our children forgot much of the Spanish they knew.

Recently, we have made a concentrated effort to bring back fluency in Spanish, despite their protests. Here are a few things that seem to be working for us:

Spanish Days: At least a few times a week, I declare a Spanish day. That means that I speak only Spanish to them, and that any TV/music/computer use must be in Spanish also. They grumbled a lot at first, but now go along with it pretty well.

Surround sound: If your children don't already know a language, the amount they will learn from watching movies in a foreign language, etc, is negligible. However, with a background and/or reinforcement at home, they can pick up quite a lot. It isn't just a matter of vocabulary. They are also learning pronunciation, intonation patterns, etc. Listen to Spanish music in the car, watch TV or DVDs in Spanish. Read stories in Spanish aloud.

Travel: Obviously, this one may be more difficult, but if you can spend time in countries, especially for longer trips where they will have the opportunity to play with other kids, they will pick up a lot. They may also acquire motivation. Joel loves Puerto Rico and is determined to learn Spanish so that he can live there some day.

Keep it fun. Sing silly songs in the target language, dance together, cook together. If you are cooking, share traditions and culture, talk about the importance of certain ingredients and their origin. There are lots of happy ways to work things in.

If there is a specific reason why they don't want to speak the language, and you can find out why, you may be able to help. Were they teased or misunderstood by someone? They may not be able to articulate a reason. Often children can't put into words their desire to fit in with those around them.

Don't frustrate them. Even on Spanish days, I will translate into English if they really don't get it (although now Ariana understands virtually everything and translates it for me). If I can tell everyone is getting cranky, we take a break. I want them to develop a life-long love for the language, and don't want to make it into something negative.

Be encouraged. They may know more than you think. Even when I couldn't remember Spanish, I would still have dreams in Spanish, but I would need to tell you about them in English. A few times, when I was very tired, it was like a switch flipped. Once I was writing a letter to a friend who was taking Spanish at school, and Spanish words started coming more easily. I wrote a couple of pages, but the next morning couldn't understand half of it. I thought she would find it funny, so I sent it anyway. She couldn't read it all, but her Spanish teacher told her it was college level Spanish! If they have forgotten what they used to know, remember that it is still there somewhere.

Be patient with everyone, including yourself. Proficiency takes time, even for children. Don't give up. It is never too late, and every little bit helps. Be gentle with any correction. In fact, it is often better not to correct at all other than by modeling unless asked. I experience times in both languages where there is a short circuit between my brain and tongue, and things that I know perfectly well come out wrong. I hear it and wonder how on earth it happened. It is frustrating and embarrassing, but I've learned to just ignore it and go on.

Welcome support from other members of your family or community, even if they speak differently from you. My Puerto Rican mother in law had my two year old proudly showing off her "pinche". It was a lovely little barrette. Being from Mexico, I had a very different interpretation of that word! We used it as an opportunity for all of us to broaden our vocabulary.

Keep challenging yourself. I feel very comfortable with Spanish grammar, but find myself occasionally blanking out on vocab that I should know. Reading in Spanish helps a lot, as does listening to everything I can.

Persistence is the key. Just keep using the language every time you think of it. It is hard, especially if you are surrounded by the dominant language. I know some people have success with rules about one parent using one language and the other using a different one. If that works for you, great! If not, don't be afraid to experiment with what works best for your family.

I have been delighted to see how far the kidlets have come just in the last couple of months. They still aren't speaking it as much as English, but they have gained back much of what was lost, and as their confidence grows, so does their desire to practice. ¡Buena suerte!

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Love notes

You know how when you are tired, everything seems magnified? I can feel my emotions inflating, and yet, when given the opportunity for face-to-face resolution, I either freeze or explode. My eldest daughter has inherited this tendency, and when she gets overtired and upset, it can take forever to resolve. However, the intensity of her feelings is so strong that she cannot rest or shelve it for awhile and then come back to the issue.

Last night she was in full meltdown mode, when I wrote a message to her on my phone telling her how much I loved her and that I wanted to help her if I could. She went very quiet for a minute or two, then typed out a message explaining how angry she was with me. We wound up sending about 8 messages back and forth.

I think that typing it out--especially on a phone--caused us both to think more carefully about what we were saying. Isn't there research that talks about how when you engage the part of the brain responsible for the things like typing, etc, that it moves away from the more emotional part of the brain?

I think we have all felt how, during a tense conversation, it is nice to be some place like driving in the car, where you can avoid eye contact when you feel uncomfortable and give each other space, both physically and psychologically. You are close enough to stay focused on resolving things, but you have breathing room to gather your thoughts and rein in feelings that are trying to run away with you.

As our conversation moved through the different issues, we each shared our perspectives, and moved to forgiveness and restored harmony. I was so impressed with how clearly she expressed herself, and how much easier it was for both of us to get through it without any added drama. She handed me back the phone and wrapped her arms around me so tightly. I am excited about a new tool for our toolbox, and incredibly grateful for my precious, expressive girl who is still teaching me.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

A True Princess

Yesterday, Elena was watching the Backyardigans episode where Tasha sings, "I Love Being a Princess".

The folks in my kingdom work hard everyday,
Then go home to their dark little huts.
Some say a Princess should live like her people,
But I reply, "What are you, nuts?"

(Complete lyrics available here: I Love Being a Princess)

Ariana fumed throughout the entire song. "That is *not* what a true princess is like. How can she be so self-centered?! She *should* live like her people--they are important, too! Doesn't she know that they are human beings, too?" And on and on she went. My little socialist. :D

This morning, we had breakfast just us and Amaya at Starbucks. She wanted to talk about Pan's Labyrinth. (Note: it is NOT a movie for children, IMO. Carlos edited pretty heavily when she saw it. As another aside, I was excited that Ariana's Spanish is good enough for her to understand it). Ariana described in detail all that Ofelia went through to become a true princess. She talked about how important it was to protect the innocent. A *real* princess would take care of those around her.

She hummed the haunting melody of the lullaby for me, and we talked about music.

She wanted to know why the stepfather valued his son more than the girl or his wife, which led to a discussion of gender in different cultures.

We talked about Jesus, who was innocent, dying for us. She pointed out that Ofelia was innocent, too, in that she didn't deserve death.

All in all, we touched on many tangled topics, and deep waters for a six year old. Yet she impressed me with her insight and awareness of so many different issues, and her strong internal values. As far as I am concerned, she is a true princess!

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Why Christians should Breastfeed in Public

Photo by zieak
I recently read a comment from Claire in Tasmania that made a deep impression on me. In reference to another mom bringing up the issue of modesty, she answered, "I've decided it's our ministry to nurse in church because
a) for those who 'don't know where to look' (which someone apparently said to the minister's wife) - it's a life skill they need to learn, and where better to learn it?
b) for everyone who reads passages in the Bible written by people who assume knowledge of breastfeeding ("like newborn babes crave pure spiritual milk"), there is so much more to the imagery there than just nutrition, yk? Peter's imagining that great big grin as your hungry baby sees that he's about to get what he wants, and the responsiveness of the relationship, and the bonding and the contented, milk-drunk smile at the end... If we don't provide that subconscious imagery, who will?"

Wow. It is only in the last few generations that so many people, male and female, have grown up *without* all of that beautiful imagery to form part of our understanding. The way a newborn, whether asleep or awake, will orient herself toward the breast. The peacefulness of a babe who has been satisfied. The frequency with which they want more (no place for scheduling here: "It has only been two hours since you read several Psalms. You have to wait another hour."). Gazing into each others' eyes, breathing in each others' scent. The trust and joy in relationship.

I think of passages like Isaiah 66:11-13 (New International Version)

11 For you will nurse and be satisfied
at her comforting breasts;
you will drink deeply
and delight in her overflowing abundance."

12 For this is what the LORD says:
"I will extend peace to her like a river,
and the wealth of nations like a flooding stream;
you will nurse and be carried on her arm
and dandled on her knees.

13 As a mother comforts her child,
so will I comfort you;
and you will be comforted over Jerusalem."

Verses like these have become so much richer to me since I've nursed my own children, seen their delight, held them in my arms, and comforted them. I imagine that this was the norm when the Bible was written, yet today breastfeeding has become something to do while hidden away in a bathroom stall, or under elaborate covers and blankets. Many people are unaware of the expressions and habits that nursing moms take for granted.

So, when you are out with your baby and she gets hungry, nurse her wherever you are. If you don't have nurslings of your own, encourage the moms around you with a smile and a kind word. You will be "doing unto the least of these" what Jesus would do, and may even discover some spiritual riches that you hadn't noticed before.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Nursing in Public: It's Not About Modesty

Last night we celebrated a family birthday, and my sister in law took pics of everyone. Of course, when she came around to me, the baby was nursing. Since I've been nursing at least one little one for the last 6 and a half years, no one was surprised. She posted the pics on Facebook later, and what did surprise me was that the first comment was from a sweet friend of hers who was concerned that I would be upset.

Bless her heart. I am sure that her motives are the best. She wasn't expressing outrage or offense or anything like that. But it really reminded me that in our society, for many people, it has nothing to do with modesty--merely the *act* of breastfeeding makes them uncomfortable.

In the interests of full-disclosure (sorry, lousy pun), I fully support a woman's right to be topless, if she desires. I bristle just a little when I hear people go on and on about nursing "discreetly". Who gets to decide if the woman is discreet enough, if not her? The Taliban? What if the baby wriggles while latching or unlatching and spectators catch a glimpse of *gasp* nipple?! There might be innocent children present! Besides the nursling, of course. We must reserve public display of breasts to advertising cars, perfume and other things--that is what they are designed for, after all. Oh. Wait...

However, like the other breastfeeding moms I know, when it comes to real-life nursing in public, it is just normal life for us. Where I go, my baby goes. If we are there for any length of time, she is likely to get hungry. When she is hungry, she nurses. That is it. I don't try to draw attention to what we are doing, any more than a bottle-feeding mom would stand on a table to proclaim her intentions. It is just what we do.

In the picture that provoked the lady's concern, there was no skin showing. I was actually looking over at our son who was goofing around and making faces. Yet because I was breastfeeding there was concern that it should be private (despite the fact that the photo was taken in a restaurant).

We have a very long way to go in our society. Many moms choose not to breastfeed, in part because of the misconception that they would have to remain housebound in order to feed the baby. Boobies and babies are both portable, and much easier than bottles (not to mention there is less clean up involved!). My state, and most others, have laws asserting that a woman has the right to breastfeed anywhere she can legally go. It can't become "normal" in our culture unless it is normal for us.