Ballet for Jesus?! Sign me up!

A close friend had taken her daughter to a trial toddler ballet class. The pictures she posted of her baby girl in a pink leotard, tiny ballet slippers and pony tail were almost too much to handle. “I must do this!” I posted. So the next week we went with them. The class was fantastic. They took all the little girls into a room without us and closed the door. The instructor along with two teenage girls taught them, gently holding any toddler that didn’t follow instruction. Toward the end of the class they pulled back a curtain so we could watch through a window without being a distraction. The best part? We got to sit in a waiting room drinking coffee and having uninterrupted conversation for thirty minutes. It was great.

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After we got home I visited their website to sign up. Their website was covered in Christian scripture. On every page was the phrase, “We dance for him” or “Rejoice for our Lord in dancing.” Hmmmm? My friend called up to ask if I was going to sign up and I said, “Well, I just looked at their website and . . .”

“I know” she said, “me too. That’s why I’m calling. The class was so great. I almost wish I’d never seen their website or I wouldn’t have known.”

Here’s the thing. I live in a very Christian town, but I’m not Christian. We have more churches than gas stations. I have no problem with anyone that has different religious beliefs than my own. What I do have a problem with is when people mix religion with business. Do they have a right to run their business as a “Christian business”? Sure they do.

But it’s a really bad business decision.

When you involve religion or politics you’re alienating any potential customers that don’t share your views.

I cannot tell you how many times living in this town I have had someone give me a referral to a business and add, “He’s a good Christian man.” That may be true but those two things aren’t synonymous. Your religious views don’t automatically make you a good person. Just as they don’t make you a bad person. Your religion is just that, a religion. It doesn’t give you a golden ticket to morality, honesty, and trustworthiness. And yet, so many people believe this. I understand wanting to patronize a business because the owners share your world view, but do you stay away from businesses owned by people you don’t agree with? Did you stop going to the nail salon down the street when you found out the owners were Muslim? Do you skip the liquor store on your block because the owner is Buddhist? How about the dry cleaner run by the Sikh man in the turban?

The difference is none of these people put scripture on their front window. These business owners don’t advertise their religion because in our city they are the minority. Or perhaps, they don’t do it because like me, they believe that this is simply bad business.

I have run businesses in this town my entire life. And I will tell you that in a conservative Christian town labeling your business as Christian actually might be a good marketing tactic. So perhaps I’m wrong. Maybe it’s not such a bad business idea. In fact, I’ve met a couple business owners who aren’t Christians but will put a Jesus fish on their print advertising simply to draw in more customers. Think about that for a minute. How does that make you feel?

To me it always feels disingenuous.

But I’ve lived in this town long enough to play the game. Growing up in a town where few people agree with your religious or political views has been good for me. I have tolerance in spades. I learned early on that views on religion and politics are conclusions we come to after our own unique life experiences. I spent a decade as a hairstylist perfecting the ability to change the subject. During an election year I could steer the conversation with expert precision. While discussing presidential candidates I would say, “I mean really, what kind of a nutcase would want to be president anyway? What an awful job.” More than anything this experience taught me a very important lesson, a lesson most people still haven’t learned.

If someone doesn’t agree with your politics or religion, it’s not because they’re stupid. It’s because they view the world differently.

This is the reason you will rarely catch me debating politics. Why? Because I would never be so arrogant as to assume I’m going to change your mind about your religion, your views on abortion, or government. And I’m certainly not going to change your mind with a Facebook post.

But I hope that you don’t follow the herd blindly. I hope you questioned your belief system thoroughly. I hope you grew up and looked at what you were raised to believe and questioned it. This is really all I ask of the world, to question. It is also what I ask of my children.

Years ago a client once asked me if I liked my town. I was still young enough that I suffered from a common affliction. I believed that most people my age agreed with my world view. (Some people never outgrow this.) I told her I loved my city but it was a bit too conservative for me. Her response was a very polite, “Well, have you ever thought of moving somewhere more liberal?” I explained that I was in my early twenties and didn’t have enough money to start all over.

I realize now that what I should have said was “I shouldn’t have to leave my city.” I love my city. And what if we all did what she suggested? What if we all just moved to a place where everyone agreed with us? What kind of country would we have then? As a friend once said of only talking to people who agree with you, “We’d have one big circle jerk.”

As for the ballet class? I signed Lids up, because the instructors were very sweet and kind. They were good Christians. Also, Lids loved it, and I don’t discriminate. But if they start preaching the gospel to my baby girl we might have to bounce.

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I’m Sorry Your Three-Year-Old’s an A$$h@le

By the time my son turned three it became apparent that he was what some call a strong willed child. I have always detested this term. I’ve always thought it was something less intelligent people said when they found they lacked the brain power to properly parent their child. Aren’t they all strong willed? Aren’t all children raging against parental control. They’re all just little bundles of primal impulse. As I said arrogantly to my husband one time, “You’re not trying to get him to comply. You’re not trying to win a battle or control him. Your job is to guide him to make the right decision. You’re his teacher not his dictator.”

My son is three and a half.

I’ve discovered I’m an idiot.

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He has no idea what he’s doing here. His Daddy staged this, big surprise.

Redirection stopped working on him after the age of two. There is no distracting him because (like me) he has the memory of an elephant. We began with time-outs. But getting him to sit in one spot became such a battle that I soon realized the infraction for which he was receiving the time-out was minor. However, his inability to stay in time-out elicited such a rage in me that I found myself giving an Oscar worthy performance in self control.

No one was benefitting.

Then I started reading more articles on “respectful parenting.” As it turns out time-outs can be psychologically damaging. Don’t ask me how, I don’t remember. Something about isolation as punishment, blah blah blah. But it made me feel a little better about forgoing time-outs. Eventually a friend with older children suggested we take things away. Duh, why hadn’t this occurred to me? At the time my son was in a phase of development in which he needed to throw things in the air (this is an actual developmental phase, no kidding), sometimes big heavy things, things that could land on his newborn sister. So we began taking away anything he threw in the air.

I’d like to tell you this worked, but honestly I don’t remember.

I do however remember a lot of screaming, crying and blubbering. Sometimes there were tantrums that lasted forty-five minutes which culminated in him crying until he was gagging and screaming, “I can’t breathe! I can’t breathe!” Lucky for me his tantrums were not the kicking, punching, throwing things kind but the frozen on the floor in self pity kind. I always stood nearby asking calmly, “Do you need me to hold you? Can I help you feel better?” He usually just needed space. In these instances I invoked the Dr. Sears “attachment parenting” part of me. I tried to “love him through the tantrum.” At least, this is what I did on a good day.

On a bad day I left the room.

He didn’t throw tantrums every day. But on any given day he was home he would inevitably not get what he wanted and there would be crying/screaming. It was at these times that I felt bad for his little sister. I felt alone. I wondered if all preschoolers were like this. I wondered if his crying was damaging his sister’s developing brain. She was old enough to be aware. It upset her to see him cry. I didn’t want to ask my friends with boys the same age if this was normal because I didn’t want them to judge my kid, or me.

Pride is an isolating thing.

Then there was a Mom’s Night Out with the mothers of my son’s friends. When one of the mothers mentioned her son having a tantrum I turned to her and asked, “What does that look like for him?” As she described the meltdowns her son was prone to most evenings my fears and pride began to disappear. Then she finished up by saying that her husband had recently said of their son, “Is he broken?” This was how we’d felt too, like he was broken and that it was our fault somehow.

Through all this I had to remind myself that my son is actually a very good boy. When he’s out of the house he is a delight. He behaves in stores. He waits in line. He sits at a table in a restaurant and engages in delightful conversation. He’s never bugged out in public. But there were a lot of winter days inside. Most days were spent trying to get things done while constantly arguing with him about the number of processed snacks he’d consumed or the amount of TV he was allowed to watch. I read him books, we sang songs and danced. I never missed an opportunity to turn the mundane into a life lesson. But I’m not the mom who spends endless hours doing crafty projects with my kids or making a sand tray to practice our ABCs. I’ve tried, it’s just not me. Facebook does a great job of making me feel totally inadequate in this department.

Needless to say this is why my son does three days of preschool a week.

We took a parenting class at his preschool, and the lady teaching it actually couldn’t help us. She gave us her organized little handout with bullet points. We learned instead of “no” we should use the phrase “I want you to” or “I don’t want you to.” As in, “I want you to be gentle with your sister.”

When she opened the floor for questions we gave her a scenario that she had used as an example earlier in her lecture. Only this time we made it more realistic. She had given the example of a child jumping on the couch. You’re supposed to say, “I want you to sit on your bottom,” then you’re supposed to physically sit down next to them to show them. If need be, you should gently take hold of the child to “help them” sit down.

“Ok,” I said, “How about if the child refuses.”

“Well, then you say, ‘I cannot allow you on the couch,’ and you gently pick them up and put them on the floor.” She replied with self assuredness.

“And if they keep climbing back onto the couch over and over again and begin kicking and screaming and saying, ‘I want to jump on the couch’?” I asked, my husband nodding emphatically next to me.

And you know what her response was?

“Well then, in that situation you’d just need to use your own judgment.”

 

Use my own judgment?! So I should slap him? Install a lock on the outside of his bedroom door? My judgment hadn’t been working so well with him, obviously. That’s why we’re here taking this Conscious Discipline class. [Side note: I don’t slap my kids.]

My husband and I walked out of there like, “We just stumped the child discipline expert. Our kid’s a rock star.”

 

End note: I wrote this last winter. My son is now four and a delightful sweet boy again. He hasn’t had a tantrum in six months. You want to know what fancy parenting method we used? Time. Time passed, he aged and entered a new developmental stage. As with all parenting, my only advice is always, “It’s a phase. This too shall pass.” I’m so thankful it did.