the un-birthday: celebrating the birthday of the child you haven’t met

I wrote the following nearly two years ago, on the occasion of our twins’ first birthday.

Image result for 1st birthday candleToday, our twins turn one. I haven’t yet met them, but I love them already. We need to celebrate – and yet how does one celebrate the birthday of someone they’ve never met? Someone who is already so firmly locked inside one’s heart, but so achingly distant? Perhaps our celebrations looked a little odd from the outside. But I think that those who, each year, mark the birthday of a child they never met, a child born asleep or taken too soon – maybe they can understand our need to celebrate.

We did some of the usual traditions. There were balloons, cake and candles, and homemade cards. Missy didn’t struggle to create a card for each of her new little brothers. But, lacking the no-nonsense self-confidence of a 4-year-old, I stared at my blank card last night and I was stuck. Making a homemade card for each of my children’s birthdays is a tradition so firmly imprinted into the DNA of our family that I couldn’t do anything else – yet how do you make a card for someone you’ve never met? I settled on a generic caterpillar design, suitable for a first birthday. Twins, please forgive me – I don’t yet know your characters, your traits, your gifts and your passions. Next year will be different.

We sang ‘Happy Birthday’ – to each twin, individually, marking the start of an upbringing which will firmly recognise each of them as separate, unique entities. But it was our birth kids who blew out the candles, it was they who were in the photos. Next year will be different.

There were no presents. The twins are coming into a home already bulging with entertainment and activity and, besides, there will be moving-in presents and Christmas presents. Their birthday presents were the cots, drawers, shelves, clothes and nappies I’m rapidly sourcing from eBay and Gumtree. Next year will be different.

There was no measuring on the height chart. We have a permanent record of how tall each of our birth children were on their first birthday – but, for the twins, we will have to be content to measure them two months late. Next year will be different.

There was no party – not at our house anyway – because how can you party without the guests of honour being there? Instead, they celebrated at their foster home, and their brilliant foster mum deserved every minute of this joyful day with them. She has been the one to feed them, nurture them, love them through their first year. Next year will be different.

For me, there were no nostalgic reminisces, no casting my mind back to the first twinges, the contractions, the labour, the birth, the early minutes and hours. I have no idea what I was doing one year ago today. Next year this won’t be any different. Nor will it be next year, or the year after, or the year after that. I will never have this date indelibly etched into my memory because, at the time, I had no awareness of the significance of it, no idea that our family had just changed forever.

But I think of her. And I wonder how many hours she laboured, and how she felt, and what she was thinking, and if she had anyone by her side. And I like to remember my joy when each of my birth children screamed their way into this world, and imagine her feeling this about her birth children, giddy in love with them like I was with mine.

They are our twins. But they are hers as well. Today we celebrate the three of them.

what we want for our kids: gender equality

This blog post is part of a series, considering what we want for our kids. If you haven’t read the previous posts, then please click here for the first post, which will take you to the others, as what follows will make more sense in context.

Oh, and here’s a disclaimer (I could have written a few): this is not a complete theology of gender! It is deliberately and unashamedly focused on how we as Christians raise our children to promote gender equality.

This is perhaps the most sensitive of the three ‘sub-heading’ topics I’ve written after the seemingly controversial post about whether it was OK for my daughter to aspire to being a mum. I decided it was wise to break that one down into the three areas I felt were potential sticking points: status, financial security, and now gender equality. And, let’s face it, most of us get more than a little bristly at the thought of women being expected to fulfil stereotyped roles, so it was no surprise that, at face value, my words were challenged. But as Christian parents, how should we aspire to, and encourage, gender equality in our children? What is the basis of this equality? And what does it look like in practice?

1) Gender inequality is an outcome of the Fall. Sexism can work both ways, but as the issue usually involves the dominance of men over women, it is this that I’m going to focus on. And the fact that there has been such dominance throughout history should come as no surprise to any Bible-believing Christian:

To the woman he said,

“…Your desire will be for your husband,
and he will rule over you.”(Genesis 3:16)

In other words, gender inequality is not ‘just because’. It is a direct consequence of our sin. God designed us to live as equals, side by side, with a joint mission to accomplish (Genesis 2) but sin brought an inequality to the relationship between the genders that will never be resolved until the new heaven and new earth. And this was not just a curse on women. The suppression of women throughout history will have undoubtedly lost the world a whole host of strong female political leaders, breakthrough female scientists, wise female strategists and inspiring female artists – it is men, as well as women, who have suffered this loss, and therefore the curse is felt by both women and men.

2) The curse of gender inequality will always be present in our world. For every win of the feminist movement, there are a handful of ‘new’ and discriminatory practices taking root in all corners of the globe. Some are old practices recently brought to the attention of the media (FGM for example) – others are new. Twenty years ago the pay gap between men and women may have been larger – but at least women didn’t have to worry about social media trolls and increased online sexism based on how they looked or what they believed in. One demon is abolished, and another is birthed. It’s because, quite simply, gender inequality is a product of the Fall, a result of our sin – so, as long as humankind remains sinful, it will remain discriminatory.

3) The belief that gender inequality is part of living in a fallen world is both sobering and hopeful. Just because discrimination will remain till the end of this life doesn’t mean we shouldn’t fight against it. On the contrary – because it is not of the Kingdom, therefore we do not subscribe to it. We have been saved, and life in the Kingdom starts NOW – so, just as we fight against poverty, war, racism, hatred and other results of the Fall, so we must also practise a different way when it comes to gender discrimination. We go about our lives as equals – and teach our children to do the same – challenging any discriminatory behaviour when we encounter it – not because of a secular feminist agenda, but because equality is a characteristic of God and His kingdom.

This is all well and good if it actually ‘works’ – but, of course, because we live in a gender-biased world, our children will be subject to all sorts of influences outside our control, and even we as ‘gender-aware’ parents probably imbibe some of the unhelpful gender-skewed culture around us without even realising. So how do we remove our blinkers and start to teach our children God’s way when it comes to gender? Here are two important perspectives which have been important to me while thinking through this issue:

  • Godly feminism is about who we are – i.e. children of God, rooted in Christ – not what we achieve. Paul said, “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female,for you are all one in Christ Jesus” – Gal 3:28. Are we teaching our children that they are valuable, not because of gender or achievement or subversion of gender roles, but because they are made and loved by God? Realistically, it is highly unlikely that my daughter will ‘just’ be a mum when she hits adulthood – real life usually demands a salary of some sort, and besides, I have every belief that God has given her the most incredible gifts to contribute to wider society, as well as her own children (should she have them). But if my opinion of her is based on what she ‘achieves’ according to the world’s views, this doesn’t show her the God who loves her because of who she is. It also devalues the role of motherhood, every bit as important as fatherhood, and not something to campaign against just because there are ways in which some families and societies are ordered which do constitute a form of female suppression. Nowadays, investing in motherhood can be a true feminist option: a ‘right’, a ‘choice’ that many have the freedom to make to whatever extent they like. Let’s not throw the baby out with the bathwater – but, rather, let’s be willing to think creatively and boldly about family, work, vocation and the Kingdom of God. It may not look as we imagine.

 

  • Godly feminism is not about trying to get one over everybody else – and those of us who call ourselves Christians must resist a worldview of unhealthy competition and ladder-climbing. The Bible’s teaching on equality is radically different: it is that, rather than compete with one another, we all submit to one another. The problems come when this submission is not equal. The Biblical model is that women submit to men, men submit to women, and we all submit to Christ (Ephesians 5:21 says “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ”.) The world says we reach equality when we strive to equal the achievements or status of the opposite sex – but the Bible says we reach equality when we self-sacrificially serve each other’s needs. Philippians 2:3-4 says, “Rather, in humility value others above yourselves,not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.” This – not aspiring to be better than everyone else, but serving each other’s needs – is how true equality is achieved, and will be achieved in the new heaven and new earth. Are we teaching our children to respect others, of all genders and backgrounds? Are we teaching them to serve sacrificially and without reward? Are we teaching them not to think less of themselves, but to think of themselves less?

Drawing these perspectives together, we see that the Biblical model of gender equality is based on healthy amounts of self-worth and humility. A distortion of the former leads to oppression of others – a distortion of the latter leads to being oppressed by others. Neither results in equality.

As Christians, we have a unique basis for these two qualities. We have self-worth through knowing that God made us, that He has entrusted us with caring for the world, that He so desperately wants a relationship with us that He sacrificed His only son in order that we could enjoy life with Him forever. We have humility because, in light of these truths, we realise that our skills and knowledge, our passion and vision, are so small in comparison to the God who gave us life. And we are aware of all the ways in which we hurt this God, this ever-loving, slow-to-anger Father – how we don’t deserve to sit in His presence, yet are able to do so through grace alone.

So, in light of this, with regards to our parenting:

1) Let’s affirm our children’s self-worth as much as possible. Christian parents, this is an easy job if you’re reading the Bible with your kids, as there’s so much packed in there about our identity being in Christ. We are so totally precious and loved by God that our gender is not even a consideration when totting up our value. When my kids do things that make me proud – winning ‘Star of the Week’ or getting full marks on a spelling test – I praise them, but always make a point of telling them that even if they were the worst behaved that week, or got 0 on their test, I would still love them just as much. It’s a little crass, and I always cringe as I say it, but I’d rather do crass than raise children who associate their value with their achievement.

There is plenty of gender discrimination in the world and, sadly, in the church – but I think much of it stems from how women are seen and treated in their families. A woman who has a secure base – parents and/or a husband/partner who believe in her – will find it easier to overcome discriminatory obstacles in everyday life and in the workplace. Raise your girls (and your boys) to be confident in the abilities God has given them. And raise your sons (and your daughters) to honour the gifts God has given to the women (men) around them. If you’re married, model a positive relationship of mutual respect and division of labour – your children will model their future households on this. Show your children how they deserve to be treated – and show them to recognise signs of ill-treatment.

2) Let’s encourage humility in our kids when relating to others – and let’s model it ourselves. We often think that we need to raise our girls up to believe they can do anything – but it’s equally important to raise our boys to understand what it might mean for them to allow girls to do anything – a stepping aside, a demotion, a position which holds little ‘status’ in the world’s eyes. Far from the arrogance and ladder-climbing we see in misogynistic cultures (and, occasionally, in some secular feminist writings too), teach your boys and your girls to follow Christ’s example, “who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant…” (Philippians 2:6-7).

The most humble person in history was a man – Jesus Christ – and, if we look to him, we will find enough self-worth and humility to serve one another as equals. I relish the day when gender discrimination will be a thing of the past – but, for now, let’s be encouraged by the work of the Holy Spirit in us and our children, shaping us to be more like Jesus, who stood for equality right up to death.

 

For the first time in five years of writing this blog, I’ve received editorial help from another, so feel it only right that I should credit her here. Thank you, wonderful friend, for reading this through, for your gracious comments and wise alterations, and for articulating on my behalf where I was getting tangled in knots.

 

what i’m into – may 2017

Once again, I feel like a fraud writing a ‘What I’m into’, when I’ve blogged approximately zero else this month. But at least there has been movement…a post I’ve been drafting for the last couple of months (yes, really) is soon to hit this site! Watch out for it soon.

I have, however, been enjoying life away from the computer screen:

Books

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I mentioned Hunter S. Thompson’s Better than Sex last month. It did take me all month to finish, and Desert Dad thought I was crazy (“Why do you keep reading that when it’s such hard work?”) but what can I say? I’m a starter-finisher and can’t help myself. In a nutshell? Thompson created ‘Gonzo journalism’, where fiction and non-fiction are weaved seamlessly together in a haze of alcohol and, sometimes, recreational drugs. The book is about the 1992 Clinton campaign, with crazed anecdotes thrown in – some of which (I guess) were real, some of which were exaggerated, and some of which might have been totally fabricated for all I know. But his style is quite endearing really. I’m not sure I’ll be reading any more by him – the experience wasn’t unpleasant, but I’m just not that into politics. Or swearing.

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A couple of kids’ books have gone down a storm in the Desert household this month. First up, Fantastically Great Women who changed the World. I discovered this a couple of months ago in an independent bookshop, and we really got into it this month, discovering the achievements of Marie Curie, Mary Anning, Frida Kahlo, Anne Frank, and many more. Mister (7) and Missy (5) loved the way the book is written – succinct chunks of really fascinating info – and the design is beautiful too. I’d recommend it for both boys and girls – and parents! I learnt loads!

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Second, Everything a Child should know about God is a beautifully illustrated systematic theology for kids. Again, my 7yo and 5yo love it – I would say it’s perfect for the 4-8 age group, but could be enjoyed by those younger and older. It does what it says on the tin – under several headings such as All about the Bible, Who God Is, Jesus comes to help us, and Why we go to Church. Desert Dad (fussy theologian) reckons it’s too basic, and doesn’t address the deep questions kids often have – but I reckon it’s a great solid basis for any child being raised in a Christian home, and well worth a fiver. And, besides, I’ve told DD he should meet the gap in the market and develop an apologetics book for kids, so watch this space…

Food

Friends, it was May. Far too late in the year to be continuing to put in any effort whatsoever to creating exciting meal plans. And, besides, the sun shone for at least five days this month, rendering me incapable of doing anything other than throwing some leftovers together or chucking some dead animal on the barbecue. That we did, though – another item ticked off the Summer Bucket List. UK summers (especially in the North) are so short that I often feel like if I haven’t cooked a BBQ, worn shorts, got the paddling pool out, been to the beach and drunk Pimm’s all in one day, I may well have missed my chance for another year.

Actually – what am I saying? This was the month that I made my own sourdough bread, a crazily lengthy process which should really have happened in the enthusiastic days of early January, when anything is possible – not May, when I’m jaded and exhausted. Paul Hollywood claims, enthusiastically, “Once you’ve made your own bread ‘starter’ and produced a few loaves using it, there’ll be no going back to supermarket bread.” Er, yes, except supermarket bread doesn’t involve a small amount of rancid-smelling nothingness sitting on your worktop for several days, demanding as much ‘feeding’ and ‘nurturing’ as a young child, followed by a bread-making process so lengthy it requires you to book childcare and, quite possibly, a haircut – just in case you don’t make it out the other side before your roots are halfway down your head and the split-ends are numerous. OK, I exaggerate, but artistic licence is my privilege and I’m going to use it.

The bread was tasty, though. And lasted about 15 minutes in the presence of my hub’s extended family, with whom I was sharing a house for the weekend. That bit was quick at least.

Needless to say, second-time round I attempted to use the bread machine to speed things up. This picture tells you all you need to know about that idea.

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I made a moussaka which was eaten enthusiastically by ALL SIX MEMBERS OF MY FAMILY, and also the only proper meal I took a picture of this month, so am inserting it here:

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(OK maybe I lie. Perhaps it was five members. Or four. I can’t remember. A majority, anyhow.)

Oh – and one day during May, I may have eaten a lunch which consisted entirely of breadsticks meant for the kiddoes with my absolutely favourite dip. There’s nothing like discovering that a favourite food needs to be used by <today’s date> to throw out my usually maverick attitude towards food safety. Mostly, I’m all “If it smells fine and looks fine and tastes fine, it’s fine” – but on discovering an unopened Onion and Garlic dip, which is the most delicious savoury item in the whole entire universe, I suddenly turned into “Ooh, well I MUST eat that, lest the hub or the kiddoes try it and get food poisoning…what sort of mother would I be to expose them to food one second past its use-by date?”

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That was a good day, and I have no regrets.

Articles

British food explained for Americans made me giggle out loud on several occasions – particularly funny if you know both food cultures.

I’m sure I read other stuff but nothing stands out. Probably just full of crazed Hunter S. Thompson lines to really absorb anything sensible.

Music

This month has been dominated by my kids (Missy especially) discovering Katy Perry and Taylor Swift. We have reached That Stage. Because I’m so cool, I enjoyed the opportunity to learn some new chord sequences as I busked the songs the kids were bringing home, appreciating (in particular) the use of the supertonic and flattened leading note chords in ‘Roar‘ – sadly, I’m not even joking. Quote of the month was Missy announcing, “Wow, Katy Swift [sic] has done that song that’s in ‘Sing’!” I think ‘Katy’ would be thrilled to know that her hard work was being credited to a couple of animated pigs.

Stage and screen

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I’ve had to add the ‘stage’ part to this section this month, because I went to the theatre THREE TIMES!! We saw Stewart Lee, one of my favourite stand-ups. I can’t describe just how brilliant he is, so if you were expecting me to, then watch this instead – it’s total genius. We finally got to see the Reduced Shakespeare Company, after years of not getting round to it, and that was great too. I’m sure I’d have got a lot more of the references had I known more Shakespeare, but it’s so cleverly written that it’d be funny to someone who knew no Shakespeare plays whatsoever.

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Then, because sometimes you need some misery to balance out the fun, I went to see Jane Eyre with a couple of friends. Having read the book and seen various film/TV adaptations, I was interested to see how it would be staged, but it was phenomenal, with a live band on stage and original music which was neither of the period, nor jarring with it. The whole performance seemed to utilise modern theatre techniques without destroying the period and essence of the original. I loved it! It’s still got a fair few dates left on its tour, so click here if you’re interested – I highly recommend it.

Screen-wise, we’ve been glued to the new series of Twin Peaks, having devoured the original seasons a couple of years ago. I’m a girl who likes conclusions, so David Lynch’s bizarre twists and turns and subplots and sub-subplots shouldn’t really be my cup of tea, but I guess with every episode I’m holding out for an answer of some kind. And the ride is so good that I’m not even that bothered.

In other news…

I transformed our garage!

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Perhaps a small feat for many of you, but for me this has been a year-long dream. You read that right. Menial tasks have become something I can only dream of having the time to complete – so this makeover is something I’m immensely proud of. Mister and Missy helped me build the extra storage, and hopefully it means that the clutter-free space is now sustainable.

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As mentioned above, we enjoyed a gorgeous weekend away with the extended fam at a big old farmhouse with indoor pool and beautiful grounds. Clergy families rarely get a weekend away, usually having to save up Sundays-off for summer holidays, so this was a big treat for us all. The kiddoes had a wonderful time in the pool and being spoilt by their relatives, and Mister taught himself to swim in a morning!

I had a job interview – the first in 11 years! I didn’t get it – which I’m totally happy about – but, also, I didn’t make a tit of myself and, in fact, got some rather lovely feedback which made me smile and jump around a little bit. Turns out SAHMs aren’t totally de-skilled when they take a career break 🙂

I went to a bridal shower, and then the subsequent wedding, of some fab church friends. Weddings make me so happy, especially when the main players are so entirely brilliant together.

And, because it was sunny, I did All The Laundry (I have a thing about air-dried clothes), which inevitably meant not being able to keep up with the Putting Away. Piles like this started to appear all over the house.

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But we didn’t care because we were in the garden anyway 🙂

How was your May?

Linking up, as always, with Leigh Kramer’s What I’m Into series.