When You Have to Get to Know Your Kids Again

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As I write this, I’m sitting in a hotel room in New York City while my family is still asleep. I just noticed the last time I published a post on Repurposed was March 20 — almost three months ago. When I grow up, I’d like to blog for a living. But I do believe living a purposeful life sometimes involves pressing “pause” on dreams, rolling up your sleeves, and living the life in front of you.

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(J.K. Rowling)

We’ve been going hard for the past three months, and while I’d like to attribute my silence to our busy work/play/sports schedules, in reality my quiet season is due to something deeper than a crazy calendar. You see, we came up for breath the week of Spring Break, and I realized I hardly knew my kids anymore.

“The days are long, but the years are short,” my friend Jennifer cautions. Indeed. Where has the time gone? I felt like I was keeping up, soaking in every new stage of their childhood. I actually enjoy entering new stages, and I don’t grieve the passing of time. But somehow, this school year swept my son and daughter away and brought back a teen and almost-teen that hardly resemble the kids I’ve been raising the past several years.

It’s rather humbling. If you like control, this experience can really rock you. And if being the most amazing parent has been one of your goals, you have to wrestle with some deeply buried idols. You wake up in the midst of your kids’ middle school years and discover parenting is not about you at all.

Gone are the days when choosing your kids’ outfits tells the world what your sense of style is. Gone is the season when you plan a fun day of activity and everyone goes along with enthusiasm. (And the affirmation you give yourself vanishes, too.) Gone are the moments when you can predict what your child’s response will be. (This might be the hardest one to let go of, for when they surprise you with unforeseen preferences, you feel like you don’t know your kids as well as you used to. And that’s kind of scary. And sad.)

Back to the blogging silence… When you’re humbled and realize how little you know, you sort of don’t have much to say. We’ve all heard how listening is usually better than talking, and these new identities have given me reason to be quiet. I have way more listening to do because I’m getting to know my children again.

I recently attended my school’s Arts Extravaganza, and the choir sang the sweetest poem:
A wise old owl lived in an oak;
The more he saw the less he spoke;
The less he spoke the more he heard:
Why can’t we all be like that bird?
– Henry Hersey Richards

Um, yes. The more he saw the less he spoke; the less he spoke the more he heard. Their little voices sang this phrase over and over and this middle-aged mommy was quite convicted.

When you bring your kids through the elementary years, you talk a lot. At least I did. When I carry on this tradition with my middle schoolers, they don’t sit there like sponges anymore, waiting for my next insight. Instead, my words are met with stiffened backs and faces that silently say, “You’re not hearing me. You’re not even trying to listen.”

And they’re right.

“Train up a child in the way he should go;
    even when he is old he will not depart from it.” Proverbs 22:6 esv

I used to read this verse through a me-centered lens, almost as a guarantee to cling to when the going gets rough. I wanted it to say: Train up your child in the way that will help her make respectable choices (spiritually and morally), and when she’s old, she’ll still be living that dream of yours for her life, making you look good.

But slowly, and sometimes reluctantly, I’m choosing to read it through another lens: Parent your child, accepting the way God designed him and helping him discover the story God has written for his life. And when he’s older, he’ll still be living a life of purpose, in sync with God’s plan from the beginning of time.

This refreshed interpretation, well, it’s a lot harder because I don’t get to work hard when I’m frustrated or irritated or down right angry. (Have you noticed we don’t sit idle when we’re angry?) It’s a difficult interpretation to swallow, for it calls me to trust and not do.

What would it look like if we listened more… not just to be polite or to avoid looking overbearing? What would it look like if we listened with the intention of learning and discovering and understanding?

Are you with me? As I parent a middle schooler and rising high schooler, I need to learn God’s story for my children’s lives. I must discover what they would have told me the past several months if I would’ve just stopped talking. And I absolutely have to understand what passions are there beyond those teenage faces staring back at me.

What about you? Who do you need to listen to more? What topics do you need to hold your tongue on for a while, with the intent of learning and discovering and understanding more? You might not be parenting teenagers, but I know you’re wrestling, too. It’s the world we live in — whether you’re trying to be intricately engaged with your local community, or you’re yearning to be a global citizen, or you’re somewhere in the middle.

Your active listening might need to take place in your workplace, or your yoga class, or as you research and write a book. For me, I’m simply going to start at home as I get reacquainted with my kids.

Trust.

IMG_2848There’s heaps of awesomeness about raising teenagers, too, like snapping this selfie at the top of the Empire State Building at 10:44pm.  🙂

The Orphan Train: Our Story

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I married a Kansas boy back in 1996. “The 1900’s” my daughter likes to call it. 🙂 I knew he was Italian and German in ethnicity, but he was oh, so very American in culture. Through and through. People were intrigued a boy from the heartland and a girl from New Jersey found each other.

But we did.

As a girl, I lived between Philadelphia and the shore until we moved north into New York City’s shadow. As I mentioned, I knew my husband’s paternal ancestors were from Italy, but I never gave much thought as to how they landed in Kansas. I guess I assumed they traveled west in search for land like all determined pioneers – by their own choosing, their own power, their own sheer will.

But they didn’t.


Pause and identify a real, live six year-old in your life right now. Picture her face. Say his name.


He was just six years-old and the son of Italian immigrants.

His parents had made New York City their home, for I imagine they didn’t have the means to continue their journey beyond the City That Never Sleeps. Oh, the irony of that nickname, for it reflected the tension within his parents’ hearts. I’m talking about the fear that keeps you up at night and doesn’t let you rest.

Jim Perona’s father died shortly after he was born. And his mother was left a widow raising six children. An immigrant in poverty. Grieving. Desperate. Confused that this new world hadn’t delivered like she had hoped.

I ache as I write this, for little Jim, my husband’s grandfather, never knew his dad. Never knew the man with hope. Never knew the man who took great risks to start a new life. Never knew the man that walked right onto the path of the unknown.

Jim’s path looked very much like his dad’s, but it wasn’t his own choosing.

You see, at the age of six, his mama hugged him tight and put him on the Orphan Train, never to see him again. I’m not sure how I got through 13 years of school and four years of college and never knew about this era in U.S. history. But, I kid you not, the first time I heard of the Orphan Train was while watching Samantha, an American Girl movie, with my own daughter when she was six. She was so tiny and fragile and needed her parents so very much at that age…

But it’s true. Over 100,000 children sleeping on the streets of New York were placed on the Orphan Train from the 1850’s and the 1920’s. And some parents in poverty who couldn’t possibly feed their children led their tiny sons and daughters to that boarding platform, too. The goal was to rip these kids out of hopelessness and place them into new lives in rural America.

But still… Jim was only six.

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Have you ever judged people in poverty for their decisions? Have you ever measured someone’s choices by looking only through your lens of comfort? Yeah, me too.

Jim’s story ended well, for after staying at an orphanage in Atchison, Kansas, he went to live with a family in southwestern Kansas. It was common back then for orphans to be indentured on contract to work for families. But these people eventually became Jim’s real family and the rest, I guess is history… a history we’ll never really fully know.


And here we are, resonating with parts of Jim’s story…

Some of you don’t feel a day wiser than six, and you’re begging God for wisdom to navigate this mess.

If you don’t have all the wisdom needed for this journey, then all you have to do is ask God for it; and God will grant all that you need. He gives lavishly and never scolds you for asking. James 1:5

Some of you have been ripped from your norm and placed into a new story whirling with risk and fear and mystery.

When you pass through the waters,
    I will be with you;
and when you pass through the rivers,
    they will not sweep over you.
When you walk through the fire,
    you will not be burned. Isaiah 43:2 niv

Some of you feel rejected. Or forgotten. Or not known.

The Lord your God is with you,
    the Mighty Warrior who saves.
He will take great delight in you;
    in his love he will no longer rebuke you,
    but will rejoice over you with singing. Zephaniah 3:17 niv

Or maybe you’re living like an indentured servant — striving, striving, striving — trying to earn your way into the family.

Are you so foolish? Do you think you can perfect something God’s Spirit started with any human effort? …Now it is absolutely clear that no one is made right with God through the law. Galatians 3:3, 11

(And why — when we need wisdom, when we’re forced into something we didn’t choose, when we feel rejected and betrayed — why do we feel shame? But that’s another post for another day…)

I titled this post “The Orphan Train: Our Story”. And by “our” I meant the Peronas — my husband and my children, and therefore me, for I’m somehow grafted into it all.

But really, it’s all of our story, yes? For we all need wisdom, and we’re all living stories we didn’t write, and we’ve all felt unknown, and we’re all tempted to live motivated by others’ approval and acceptance.

But I promise you, we are not alone in the deep, deep water that taunts of drowning. We are not consumed in the fire.

I see your stories. And I see your wounds. But you are absolutely not identified by your brokenness, for we are His sons and daughters.

He endured the breaking that made us whole.
    The injuries he suffered became our healing. Isaiah 53:5

Pierced for us. Crushed for us. And by those very wounds, His wounds, we are healed.

Known. Chosen. Welcomed in as adopted children.

photo source | Wilson Lau

Find more details about the Orphan Train online.