Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Aquarium Adventures

For our O-o-Octopus and Ocean unit this month, Don took a day off so that we could go on a family field trip to the New England Aquarium. Our town library offers a coupon pass to defray the cost of admission, and in order to avoid the $30+ Boston parking fee, we decided to make it a real adventure and take the train into the city. Boston's "T" is far from a glamorous way to travel, but besides being cheap (children ride for free!), the boys were excited about their first ride on a subway train that travels, as Hayden put it, "down into the dirt."

The adventure began with a drive, a long walk, a subway ride, switching trains for a short subway ride, several elevators, and a short walk through the cold winter air - all with three small children in tow, of course. We planned to arrive at the aquarium, eat lunch, see all the ocean creatures, and then ride the train back to our van in order to get home before the boys' bedtime. Don had thoughtfully remembered to bring some T tokens leftover from our pre-children days, but we discovered that the fare system had been updated and automated, and in our confusion, we ended up paying for the days' travels, and exchanging our tokens for a slip of paper worth a few more fares. It was after all this, as we entered the aquarium, when I realized that the lunchbox I had painstakingly packed with neatly labeled sandwiches, snacks, and beverages was not in the stroller as I had intended it to be; it was still in the van, which was now several miles and a few subway rides away.

During the ride to the train station, I had debated whether or not to eat my sandwich in the van, and now I was very glad I had decided to do so! I was worried about the boys, who had not eaten since breakfast, and Don and I would have even considered purchasing overpriced food from the museum cafe (something we would only consider under extenuating circumstances!), but just as we went in, a voice over the loudspeaker announced that the cafe would be closing. We decided to keep the boys distracted with all the fascinating creatures, and for the most part, it worked!

The aquarium visit was certainly a perfect conclusion to our ocean study. Although we did not get a good look at the octopus (he was huddled in the corner of his tank, with only a few tentacles in view), we did enjoy seeing a shark, moray eel, sea turtle, and tons of fish in the huge central tank. Other attractions included a jellyfish exhibit and an electric eel, just like the one we saw on our Moody Classics Experience with an Eel DVD.

The aquarium also features a hands-on tidepool area where children (and adults) can touch a sea star, mussels, and even hermit crabs. I vaguely remember visiting this exhibit in my own childhood, and our boys enjoyed it just as much, if not more than, I did years ago.

And of course, one of the highlights of an aquarium trip is always the penguins. When we visited the aquarium two years ago, the penguin exhibit was being renovated, so we were happy that the various penguin groups were back on display this time. Lydia slept through most of the adventure, but she woke up in time to pose for a picture with me.

It was around 5:00pm by the time we returned to our van and pulled into a parking lot to eat "lunch," but in spite of our blunders, our aquarium trip was a fun family day!

There is the sea, vast and spacious,
teeming with creatures beyond number—
living things both large and small.

Psalm 104:25

Friday, February 5, 2010

Seed-Bearing Fruit

"I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing."
John 15:5

Motherhood, as all mothers know, has some ugly moments - and ugly days. I have shared glimpses (trust me, they were just glimpses!) into such times in my own life in previous blog posts. Any day has the potential for ugliness, for sin to creep in and eat away at the blessings of domestic life, but each day also has the potential to be an occasion of joy and thankfulness to the Lord. And today, I am happy to report, was not an ugly day.

In fact, the day started off with some of my favorite routine activities: snuggling between a sweet baby and her wonderful daddy, an early morning workout, a hot shower, and a hot breakfast. Despite the imperfections (a wet boy with wet sheets that now needed washing, just two days after I last changed them), the morning was altogether pleasant. This was partly due to the fact that both my workout and shower were surprisingly free of the usual (and often frustrating) interruptions.

Instead of leaving the children to their own devices while I washed off, I set up Lydia on her blanket with toys, and the boys close beside, each with a pile of laundry to fold and put away. Laundry is the boys' least favorite of their regular chores, and the mere mention of it often elicits groans, whines, or mysterious disappearances. Upon seeing Donny's chagrined face this morning, I encouraged him to please God, to please Mumma and Daddy, and to displease Satan by folding the laundry with a joyful heart. I reminded both children that God is watching them even when Mumma cannot, and that they would choose between consequences for disobedience or the rewards of completing their task before my return. I dared not expect too much - after all, there are many days when I command, "Fold the laundry," with repeated warnings and reminders, and the task still takes three times longer than it should. Yet I stepped out of the room hoping that today, after my gentle explanation and encouraging reminders, would be different.

And it was! I enjoyed a refreshingly unhurried shower, got dressed, and returned to find Lydia still playing on her blanket, and the boys putting away the last of the laundry they had folded. What joy to a mother's heart, to see her children obey completely! I have a strong suspicion that the time I spent in explanations and encouragement - the fruit of gentleness and patience displayed in me, by the grace of God - was what made the difference between an ugly morning of incomplete chores and a the joyful morning I experienced.

There was more encouragement later, while we ran errands. The cashier in the grocery store recognized us, and told the woman in line behind us how good my children are, and how the boys are always such good helpers with the groceries. It's true; they may have occasions of whining, begging, or spilling their snacks, but for the most part, the boys are great grocery helpers - especially when we get home, and they help me put all the food away!

Now of course, my three children did not suddenly morph into perfect, sinless creatures, or even into completely obedient little soldiers. By the end of day, discipline for bad attitudes and delayed obedience was necessary. Yet by the grace of God, the day did not go sour. I was able to remain patient and calm, correcting what needed correction, and helping my children come to a place of repentance for their sin. And in those moments, moments that could easily have taken an ugly turn, I saw God's hand at work. I saw spiritual fruit in myself: a gentle patience that is so often lacking when I am not connected to the Vine. Had I flared up in anger or collapsed in discouragement, I would not have experienced the peace of walking with God and leading my little ones to His feet. If selfishness had crept in, I would have been too self-occupied to notice the many blessings laced throughout my day.

In a similar way, today I saw fruit in my children, which encouraged me that the praying and Bible reading and verse memorizing and hymn singing and theological discussions are not just producing well-educated hypocrites. It seems that somewhere in their childish hearts, a seed has been planted, a seed that I pray daily will grow and blossom, that my children may come to truly know Christ as their Savior. Today I witnessed the fruit of my labors: children are not born knowing how to put away laundry or be cheerful in the grocery store, but consistent training in the ways of the Lord is effective.

I wanted to record today's events, however unexciting they may seem to some, to encourage myself and my readers not to give up on the ugly days. Get connected to the true Vine, find peace and refreshment there, and watch as the fruit you bear for Him produces seed for the next generation.