Never Stop Swinging

When I was a kid, my dad designed and built play structures. It had a lot of perks – we had a really great play structure in our own backyard, and my sister and I loved to play on the new ones as they were being built, because it was always fun to try something different.

It seems as though a large number of my childhood involved those play structures. We would haul out all the blankets and build houses on the structure railings. We would try to teach our cats to walk across the top of the monkey bars. We would climb and dangle and twirl on the various bars. And we would swing. I remember the feeling of swinging so high, it felt as though I would soar right off into the air.

There was a huge lilac bush beside our play structure, and when I think of my most beautiful childhood memories, I remember sitting on the lawn swing with my mom, memorizing Psalm 23 while the dusk crept in. We smelled the lilac-scented air, and my mom would say, “Let’s see how high we can swing!”

One day when I was in high school, I was sitting on a swing, deep in thought, when my dad walked by. He said, “I miss the days when you girls would swing so much, the grass could never grow underneath the swings, because you would always wear it out.”

After he continued walking to the house, I got down on my knees and began pulling up handfuls of grass, trying to make the dirt show through, even though I didn’t swing enough to wear it out anymore.

I don’t know when I stopped swinging.

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The summer before Everett was born, Ben set up a play structure in our backyard. We’d been debating about it for awhile, wondering if our girls would get much use out of it, but when we were surprised with another baby on the way, we decided to get the structure, because there would be many more years of use with our little guy on the way.

In the beginning, both girls would swing together, shrieking delightedly when they were “double dating” and their swings were perfectly in sync. But slowly, over time, Kaylia often ended up on the monkey bars or in the sandbox, while Anika kept swinging.

I’d notice her going out to swing more and more. She’d take a break from school work to swing. She’d head out there the second we got home from a busy afternoon away. She would swing in the rain, the snow, the dark – it didn’t matter what kind of weather or time of day, she had to swing. I loved to watch her out the window, because she’d usually be smiling to herself, deep in thought as she stretched towards the sky.

It’s been a couple of years since Anika started swinging, and the grass still never grows under her swing.

She had a growth spurt this last winter. In the span of a few short months, she changed from being a little girl, and people started to mistake her for me. She almost looks me in the eye, and she’s borrowing my clothes. She spends hours a day writing fantasy books, and talks about being published, but whenever she’s stuck for an idea, she heads out the door to go swing. Morning, afternoon, and evening, she is out there on her swing.

Because she’s almost my size now, that little play structure built for small children was getting worn out after the intense workout she’s been giving it for three years. It was creaking and groaning, and Anika complained, “It makes so much noise when I swing, people are starting to turn and look from the sidewalk! Dad needs to fix it!!”

So last weekend, Ben finally built a new swing set (with his usual little helper!). He built it adult-size, so there will be no need for our girl to stop swinging.

We planted lilac bushes by the play structure, and maybe someday, the smell of lilacs will also make her think of evenings on the swing.

We tease Anika a little, because she’ll go off to college, and need to find the nearest park so she can swing and de-stress from college life! She says she’ll know she’s found her soulmate when she meets a boy who will swing with her.;)

We were at the chiropractor at the end of summer, and after finishing Anika’s adjustment, he came to me and asked, “Do you have her doing some kind of athletic activity?” I told him she took dance lessons during the school year, but hadn’t been doing anything during summer.

He said, “She’s in great shape – she must be very active!”

I smiled and said, “Well, she swings for a few hours a day.”

He looked confused. “She swings? Like on a play structure?”

I described to him how she swings many times a day, and how she’s gotten muscular from all those hours of pumping.

The chiropractor was amazed. “Her spine is very strong and healthy – she has the body of an athlete!”

And so Anika has proven that even something as simple as swinging can be good for the mind and the body.

I think of all those phys.ed classes when I was in high school, where I was taught that volleyball and basketball were everything, and competitive sports were the only way to be athletic. There was no value for the things I loved to do, like going for walks, or riding my bike in the sunset.

And yet, long after the phys.ed classes are over, those are the things that remain. There are many ways to move and live and feel your body connect with the moment. What I want for my kids are those beautiful moments of enjoying whatever it is they want to enjoy. To see the value in the unexpected. To find strength and beauty in simple things. To do what clears the head and gets the blood pumping. To smell lilacs and see sunsets, and to feel strength in their limbs and to get outside.

If they enjoy competitive sports, that’s great. But even more importantly, I hope they find ways to relax and move through life in small ways, all by themselves, when there’s no team around and without fancy equipment. I hope they keep balanced and active for the simple reason that our bodies were made to thrive that way.

If Anika still wants to swing when she’s an adult, I hope she does. I hope she never feels silly for loving it, because she’s found the secret for clearing her head and connecting her soul to the peace of the moment.

 

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How Do You Play?

I’m in the middle of a great book about the importance of playing. It’s giving me something to think about as I go about my everyday stuff, because it’s making me realize that I don’t spend enough time playing. It’s making me watch my kids play, and think about how I can learn from them, how to encourage them in their play, and how we can pursue more fun around here.

Play isn’t much of an issue when Ben is at home – he is naturally a very playful person, and when he’s an old man, he will be a more wholesome version of the Taco Bell commercial about the seniors sneaking out of the retirement home at night. He’s always got a twinkle in his eye, and is constantly cracking jokes and reading stories with all the silly voices.

Everett’s backyard version of “water skiing”

And then there’s me – a little on the intense side, often forgetting that life is not one big to-do list. I think I can be pretty funny sometimes, and I enjoy pursuing creativity and relaxation, but playfulness…not so much. I’ve just never thought about it a lot.

So now there’s this book: The Dolphin Way: A Parent’s Guide to Raising Healthy, Happy and Motivated Kids Without Turning into a Tiger. (affiliate link) It’s interesting to be reading about the scientific study and different categories of play, while watching my kids naturally doing these things, and trying to figure out when I lost it. Movement, banging things, building things, imagining, wrestling, storytelling, and rituals. (That last one is actually one of the easiest for adults – ritual or celebratory play refers to birthday parties or the fun things we do for holidays.)

Having kids gets me to do more of these things with them – and I do have to admit that it feels good to build Jenga block towers or get out the puzzles. But how often do I intentionally pursue play for myself? I don’t even know how I would do some of those things. What could I build?!

I can see dramatic improvement in my life when I do take part in any these things – daily walks and yoga have been a huge benefit in my life. Writing and telling stories feeds my soul. Dancing in the kitchen while we clean up from supper is always a good way to get everybody in a good mood. So maybe I’m doing better than I thought, but there’s still lots of room for improvement!

I found it interesting that in this author’s mind, competitive sports don’t count as play! She’s referring specifically to recreational play, where there is no pressure to win or perform, and the focus is on freely playing without worrying about improving skills or striving to reach goals. Just plain, simple fun.

I want more of that! How can I intentionally pursue play in my own life? Maybe we all need kids to lead the way! How do we keep them from losing their sense of fun and ability to play? I’m so curious to hear your thoughts!

Are you like Ben, and find it easy to incorporate play, or are you more task-focused? How do you play? I need some fresh ideas!!:)

If You Ask Me About Homeschooling, I Might Cry

Most of the time, I try to stay away from writing about homeschooling on my blog. This is not a homeschool blog, and it’s not a topic that everyone really cares about all that much.

But right now, it’s one of the big things in my life that’s getting a lot of attention, stress, and prayer. And the longer I blog, the more I find that those are the topics that resonate with people – the personal, privately painful, deep, life stuff.

If I share what I’m truly struggling with at the moment, it seems there is a much better chance of someone else connecting with my story – someone who, for whatever reason, needs to hear those certain words, that different point of view, the reassurance they’re not alone.

So here’s a post about homeschooling, for anyone who might be needing it, for whatever reason:

I grew up in a town where homeschooling just wasn’t done that much. The few who tried it were viewed as being…kind of weird.And beyond that, I never gave it a lot of thought.

But when Anika was three years old, some friends of ours came over for a visit, and shared how they were considering homeschooling their kids.

I was surprised – they seemed so normal. Why would they be interested in homeschooling?

As they shared their reasons, I felt myself slowly starting to relate to what they were saying. The dreams they had for their family were very similar to ours, but I had never considered homeschooling as a way of accomplishing those dreams.

When our friends left that evening, Ben and I looked at each other and said, “Interesting. We may have to talk about this some more, someday.”

But Kindergarten still felt a long way off at the moment, and it didn’t feel like a pressing concern, just an interesting thought.

Two months later, the opportunity to move to Red Rock Bible Camp presented itself, which meant some big life changes for us, including…homeschooling.

If we chose to move out there, sending Anika to the nearest school would involve her spending two hours per day on a bus, in addition to over an hour of driving for us, getting her to and from the bus stop.

We saw homeschooling as our only option: Were we prepared to do it?

I have never been so stressed about Anika’s future. It was extremely difficult to make the choice to homeschool, and to move to a place where social interaction with other children was not guaranteed. We were dealing with infertility at the time, so producing siblings for her to play with wasn’t even looking like a realistic option. Would she be lonely? Would we regret moving out there?

In the midst of my turmoil, one day I felt God say, “Trust me with Anika’s future.” I realized He cared far more for her needs than I even did.

So we went for it. And at the job interview, when I was asked how I felt about my possible role at camp, and if I was prepared to homeschool, I cried when I answered.

I couldn’t help it! It was such a weighted question for me at that time.

I thought for sure Ben wouldn’t get the job because of his crazy, emotional, bawling wife.

But he did, and we moved, and we homeschooled.

And we loved it.

Not in an “Everything is sunshine and roses and happiness ALL THE TIME” kind of way, but in other ways.

Our family found it’s rhythm. We found a relaxed, flexible pace and schedule. I loved being there for all those times when Anika was learning something new, and the look of understanding and excitement flashed across her face. I loved learning with her. I loved shopping for all the fun books and resources. 🙂 I loved being the one to help her with all the other life stuff that came up while we were doing school. I loved seeing the kind of relationship she grew with Kaylia because they were together all day. I loved all the hours she had for playing, reading, imagining, and getting outside when she was done her school work. I loved being in a place where every other family was doing the same thing, and loving it for many of the same reasons we were.

And we didn’t love every single moment of homeschooling, but we loved the results.

It’s like potty training – sometimes it’s hard and messy and frustrating, but I don’t ever quit for those reasons. I stick with it because in the end, I love the results, and it’s so totally worth the effort.

After four years of homeschooling, it’s become a part of who we are as a family.

We could change. We could send Anika to school, and she could love it.

And we may do that, someday.

Or we may not.

But for now, we just like it. Sometimes it’s hard, and very frustrating, but some moments are gold.

Now that we’ve left camp, I am starting to see more clearly how much our family changed and adapted to our life out there. It was very, very different than life out here.

Maybe our adventure at camp made this “normal life” seem harder to blend in with, but maybe blending was never the point. And I could never regret these past five years, because we loved it. It made us who we are. So has homeschooling.

But I find myself feeling scared again.

I am scared this could end up being a bad choice for Anika. I’m scared I won’t be enough. I’m scared we’ll shelter her, or hold her back from good opportunities. I’m scared she’ll seem weird to other kids.

Right now, though, this is where our hearts are at, and once again, I have to trust God with Anika’s future.

If He makes it really clear that Anika needs to go to school, off she goes. But in the meantime, this is who we are.

God has blessed us and cared for us so very well – far beyond our expectations.

Those social concerns I had for Anika at camp – not having enough kids to play with? There were 15 children living at camp when we left. I really didn’t need to be so worried.

I think He’ll work things out this time, too.

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If you want to read some great resources about why homeschooling can be amazing, these are my favorites:

Why Be Crazy Enough to Homeschool

So You’re Thinking About Homeschooling

Daddy’s Home to Play

Ben is home again, and we will live happily ever after.

Kaylia set right to work playing the “Bed Game” with Daddy. Ben is still very tired from his trip, so he thought “Bed Game” was perfect. For Kaylia, it’s all about getting tucked into someone’s bed (our bed, Anika’s bed, she’s not picky), and arranging the blankets and pillows just so, and then pretending to sleep, or hide, or play with toys.

It’s very relaxing.

We hope “Bed Game” continues for a long, long time…

Confessions

Confession: I’ve been doing lots of playing, and very little working this week.

Confession: I didn’t actually want to go to the beach. I was tired, and the messy house was making me grumpy. Like eating too many sweets at Christmas, and knowing you should stop, heading for the beach day after day is starting to feel like it would be healthier to stay home and get some work done.

But seriously, how many more hot summer afternoons do we have left?

Confession: When we got back, Tinkerbell entertained my children while I speed-cleaned like a mad-woman. (That’s how you do it when you have to clean the whole house, finish the laundry, clean up the groceries, and make supper, all during the length of one Tinkerbell movie.)

Confession: Today I might possibly love Tinkerbell more than anyone else in the whole world. Just for today.

Confession: Sometimes I exaggerate the truth if it sounds good in a blog post. ‘Cause you know I love my family. Which is why I’m taking the day off on Monday. Camp is over, and we’re going to just be a family. I’ll see you all on Tuesday!

Confession: Sometimes I really, really wish I had a southern accent so I could pull off saying “y’all”, and it would be legit instead of cheesy.