In the Asking

By Ian Anderson

Yesterday morning I watched as my sons played Chutes and Ladders. All seemed well in their world: they laughed at the thought of doing the “naughty” things that made them slide, counted how many more spaces they needed to win, and argued about whose turn was up. And then the youngest screamed the scream that makes his oldest brother cover his ears and look at me like, “Are you going to do something here?”

Right before the scream to end all screams, I heard their conversation, which was quickly urgent on all fronts. The older brothers were making the little one understand, in gentle tones of course, that he needed to move his piece to a certain spot on the board. I heard something like, “No! Give me that! It goes here!”

Then, as previously stated, the scream happened.

I talked quickly and simply, and the game resumed. Because of the frequency of this kind of situation, I knew what the little one needed — he had to be asked.

It took me a long time to realize that to ask is to create relationship, to draw another person toward me. The opposite of asking is demanding, and it is the same as pushing away; when I demand, I step on the personhood of whomever I demand from.

Both asking and demanding are powerful, and it may be that our demands are often granted, but we should know the price. Implicitly, we bind one to another or we cast away.

I’ve observed the power of the request in the classroom, too. I talk openly with my students about the authority I’ve been given as their teacher, especially about how easily that power could go to my head. And it’s because of that authority that my requests, my genuine pleases and thank yous, are even more powerful. By asking instead of demanding, I silently acknowledge the independence and personhood of my students, and I have seen in their eyes a willingness to listen — even when they disagree or would rather resist.

Foolproof? Not even close. Yet, if we really respect the people around us, we give them room to carry out their resistance, to say no. As a teacher, I explain the consequences simply.

And what about more intimate relationships? We’ve all seen marriages in which it’s common for the request to be absent. Inserted is the demand, and with it the attitude that each should know the other so well that asking becomes a sort of an insult — or the idea that each has the right to demand what is due. Maybe too many requests went unfulfilled and demanding was the only way to carry on. Maybe.

However, earnest requests are hard to deny, no matter the situation. This is why we instinctively avoid the friend or neighbor who we know will ask to borrow from us. How can we say no? Asking is so powerful, we are often angry that we’ve been asked because the pull of the request is so strong, even from someone who “over-asks.”

As a parent, it’s difficult to balance my authority with a clear eye on building up my sons. But with an understanding that relationship is more important than getting my way, even as a dad, I’m at least headed in the best direction.

Chutes and Ladders continued without bloodshed because I explained — over the ear-splitting, tongue-wagging, scream — that instead of trying to rip his piece from his hand while forcing their way on him, their brother needed to be talked to like one of them. Once they drew him closer with a request, he gleefully accepted their help.

Perhaps before we learn anything about relationships, we must first learn how to ask.

Ian Anderson is a teacher, a husband, and a dad. He lives with his family in Central Kansas. Occasionally, he tweets here: @ian_writes.

Making the most of a kid-free week

By Jennifer Adams

IMG_8573“I just can’t stand being home alone when the kids are away at camp,” my running buddy said to me several miles into a run last fall. For the first time since the start of the run, I was rendered speechless, not by the lack of oxygen, but by shock and confusion. “Explain,” I managed to mumble out between strides. She shared that in the past when her kids for summer camp, she felt incredibly lonely, sad and homesick for them. “So this year,” she explained, “I’m going to Puerto Rico for the week.”

For a brief moment the mother’s guilt hit me. “Why am I not heartbroken at the idea of my children being gone?” Or said the more truthful way, “Why is the week they are away one of my favorite times of the year? Do I not love my children enough? Am I a terrible mother? An all-around bad person?”

Of course the answer to all of those questions is, “no.” I adore my children and enjoy their company. We meet all of their needs and a vast majority of their desires. Camp, though, is the ideal situation for everyone in our family. They get to be somewhere they love, and we have time to do whatever we want without having to juggle a child’s needs.

So, on a hot July day, we will wake to the sounds of three kids too excited to sleep because camp day has finally arrived. We will load trunks with sunscreen, clothes and swimming suits. We will pile into a car with the windows all painted with camp slogans, and we will drive to the place they look forward to every day of the year. I will visit their cabins, make their beds and smother them in kisses. I may even shed a tear or two; I usually do. But then I will say goodbye, and I will rejoice in knowing that my kids are safe and happy at Kanakuk. Then, for one glorious week, we will not have parenting as our number-one responsibility.

IMG_2368I never stop being a parent during this time, and I certainly do not forget about my children. I still scour the Kanakuk website for pictures of them every single morning (and let’s be honest, five other times throughout the day…okay ten…okay hourly). I think about them constantly, but I also think about me. I think about my husband. And I enjoy every minute of it.

Since the conversation with my running buddy, I have heard others express the same concern:

“How can parents survive the loneliness and/or guilt of enjoying time when the kids are away at a summer camp?” In the world of parenting, I do not excel at much, but this one I have down. Lonely? Nope. Guilty? Not anymore. Ecstatic? Definitely!

So to help answer the question, here are five tips on how to enjoy your time as much as your kids enjoy time at summer camp:

  1. Let go of the guilt. Believe it or not, guilt is not one of the four major food groups for parents. By sending them to camp, you provide them with a life-changing experience. They learn independence. They make new friends. They learn to take risks. They play outside and love every minute of it! And guess what? YOU give them the gift of camp. You can take responsibility for those experiences—that’s a parenting win!

  2. Remember that absence really does make hearts grow fonder. Maybe I am the only one, but my parenting skills tend to decrease in direct proportion to the amount of time I spend with my children. Remember how much more sane you are after having a break. When the kids come home from camp, you’ll feel renewed and a little more tolerant of constant questions or elevated volume. The same will be true for them. Your kids will realize how much you do for them because at camp, no one is there to pick their dirty clothes up off the floor. At camp, they have to find their own lost shoes or put them up so they aren’t lost in the first place (imagine that!). You will miss them. They will miss you. It’s healthy.

  3. Be intentional about how you use your time. Recognize this for what it is—you get a vacation. Maybe not from work. Maybe not on a beach. But you get a vacation from what is likely the biggest responsibility in your life. Plan to take advantage of it. Even if you plan to do nothing more than sit in your quiet house, binge on ice cream, watch movies, sit by the pool without being splashed, run at 8 a.m. instead of 4 a.m., and enjoy the simple pleasures without factoring in a kid’s schedule. Make the plan. Have something to anxiously await like your kids anxiously await being launched off a blob into a lake. Think in advance about how you want to use your time, and make it happen.

  4. Reconnect with you and/or your spouse. The first time our children left for camp, I remember grocery shopping with my husband. The two of us. In the same place. Without kids. I noticed that we talked, we laughed, we meandered. The responsibility of parenting temporarily vanished, leaving us as that young couple who once just enjoyed being together doing nothing. I saw a different person in my spouse. He was more carefree than I had seen him in years, and I know he saw a different person in me. I was his friend again, not just the person constantly reminding him of all the things we had to do.

    If you can, plan a mini-vacation. One year, I had to travel for business, and my husband decided to join me for the week. We ate at restaurants without kid menus, slept in, watched movies and ate dessert in the middle of the day. It was exactly what we needed.

  5. Be a super parent. I’m going to let you in on a little secret. The easiest time to be a super parent is when your kids are away at camp. Here’s the simple way to do it. Send thoughtful care packages and/or notes to your kids.

    Before my kids leave for camp, I purchase an inexpensive card for each day they are away. I take 15 minutes to fill them out, stamp them and have them ready to go so that all I have to do is drop one in the mailbox each day. Easy! I send their camp addresses to friends and family and ask them to send notes as well. I even send letters from the pets, which takes me all of 10 minutes on any given day. And if you really want to earn your cape, send care packages with all the otherwise useless stuff that campers love—glow sticks, water balloons, card games, fake mustaches, beach balls, nail polish, stuffed animals, inexpensive bracelets they can share with friends, etc. Lifehack—you can do this online and never have to go to the post office!

    With a little planning and a few minutes each day, you can be the parent yelling, “nailed it!”

As I finished the run with my friend, I understood her point of view. For some, going from having children around all the time to having them away from home with limited ability to contact them can feel devastating. It also confirmed for me that if you are able to provide your kids with a camp experience, it is well worth it for everyone involved. And I suspect that while she looks out over the ocean, she won’t regret the choice for even a second!