Thursday, March 21, 2013

Under Construction

     We're in the 6th week of kitchen deconstruction/installation. The first few weeks were fun - like camping, with a makeshift kitchen installed in the family room, and lovely inventions like the electric frying pan, rice cooker, crockpot, microwave, and bread machine taking up the slack where our normal kitchen appliances were absent. We washed dishes in the laundry room's slop sink, and while the kids didn't enjoy trekking up and down the stairs with dishes, I actually found the time in that bright little blue room very reflective - how few steps I had to travel, to get to clean, fresh, clear water, compared to the task of most of the world's mothers. How quickly the water gets hot! I thought of mothers washing pots and fetching drinking water in running streams, muddy watering holes, or at village wells, after walking miles. I gave thanks.

     Then it got old - the dust, the contractor's sparse working hours, the leaks and things installed incorrectly, and hours of work my husband had to put in fixing things that were "fixed" wrong. We thought it might be nice to just run away, and come back when it was done. We had a week of lovely "vacation" at my parents' house (my childhood home), not far from away, while the wood floors were being refinished in our nearly-done kitchen and dining room. Their house has been lovingly restored, top-to-bottom, with my father's incredible craftsmanship and my mother's flair for Victorian decorating; it's a lovely, peaceful place to have some respite from remodeling, and I'm so thankful for the relationships we share.

     Recently, as I looked around at our four youngest boys, I realized that our kitchen isn't the only thing under construction at our house. These boys are huge - two of them each grew four inches taller and ten pounds heavier in the past year. There are three adolescents - two 12s, and one 15 - and the last voice of the three changed without warning, a week ago. I was upstairs and heard another man in the house, and went downstairs to see who'd come over - and there was my son, another deeper-voiced young man to confuse callers to our house, who find themselves suddenly unable to identify the boy who answers. Our grocery bill is more monthly than our mortgage, and we use at least a dozen eggs a day. And the shoes - the man-sized sneakers that line my foyer - when did their feet get so big? Three large boys to shuttle to and from rowing practice with their friends, lots of sweaty gym clothes to wash, and many, many meals and snacks to prepare and clean, with their help.

     The changes aren't only physical, I remind myself, as I see signs of other, deeper, changes. Skin seems thinner, finding offense where often none was intended, and needing desperately to be right. A normally compliant boy suddenly feels the need to argue about simple things - like whether it's ok to leave a wet washcloth on the new granite or whether the day is warm or what another person said or did; a sometimes exhausting litany of offense and disagreement from a usually very helpful and agreeable child. Happy, thick-skinned boys become fragile and sensitive; brooding becomes more common and feelings are hurt more easily. I find myself praying more, both for both these young people and for my own parenting, than I have before. Because the frequent little disagreements - they can wear a person down. The arguing, especially when it's with me - it's a struggle not to get offended, or hurt, and respond less like a parent and more like another adolescent; I need to respond prayerfully, teach problem-solving skills, and point them to Jesus. And their own hurt feelings - gosh, sometimes it would be easier to say, "ease up, stop worrying, get over it!" But the feelings run deep and they are real, and I'm reminded, too, that the brains are changing along with the bodies, causing all this disequilibrium and some mental chaos.
     Around the age of 13 and the beginning of puberty, the structural remodeling of the prefrontal cortex in the teen brain begins. The prefrontal cortex helps make possible the executive functioning skills of planning, reasoning, impulse control and weighing risks and rewards.  In a process called pruning, up to 40% of the neural branches are sloughed off in this region. Despite the elegant brain growth that occurs during the next decade (thanks to environmental experience and the wiring of neurons over time), the brutal truth is that until maturation is complete in the early twenties, cognition and decision making are compromised by this construction project. Furthermore, the role of emotions becomes critical in the understanding of teen behavior, since emotions often trump cognition in any of us—and even more so for teens.

In all humans, the limbic area, and specifically the amygdala, is activated by highly arousing emotional events that trigger fear and anxiety.  Emotional flooding and “fight and flight” reactions can happen even more readily for teens, because they lack the established inhibitory mechanisms which help reign in impulses. Along with sexual hormones and the teen’s super-sensitivity to dopamine, a lot of extra fuel can be added to the fire of teen emotions. The dominance of neuronal activity in the emotional region of the brain during high arousal situations has been called an “amygdala hijack.” -

     Who knew? The quick emotional responses, the emotional flooding, the "thinking" with explains a lot and makes me wonder, too, how early life experiences play into this and muddy the waters - do feelings of fear or abandonment, long buried, become more intensified during these years when everything is felt so deeply? Might the child who pushed back for independence from the start push more now, and might feelings of unworthiness or fear of rejection just happen, in these years, to look like cocky indifference or a need to be right?

     Praying, I'm reminded that I want to be the mother who goes again. (Do read this blogger's post, please - what wisdom in these words!) Praying through an older child's struggles years ago, a truth became blindingly apparent: we are as unruly and difficult to love as our children can be sometimes, and yet we serve a God who goes again and again, to find us, to rescue us, to save us and redeem us. He was faithful even during my years of stubbornness and rebellion; faithful even in my business and lack of attention to Him and to prayer; faithful in the face of selfishness and anger and outbursts. We serve a God who loves us deeply enough that He sent His Son to the cross to retrieve us. It's this love - this crazy, sacrificial, impossible love - I'm called to imitate, and will never, ever, come close to achieving without the help of the one who modeled it. Because I'm under construction too:

     "Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me." Philippians 3:12
     The dishwasher will be installed soon, and it won't be long before we can start moving things back into the kitchen; life will look more normal again. But the rest of the construction? It will be years - for all of us.

    "For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.  For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience. Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.  And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose." Romans 8-22-28
     And so we pray for patience, for laughter, and give thanks for joy in the beautiful, everyday moments. We pray and trust these precious ones to One who loves them more than even we do, knowing that even when we are out of words, the Spirit knows our hearts  - and their needs - and intercedes for us. We give thanks for the music and the living room wrestling, the dirty dishes and grocery bills, the stinky socks and the pile of boys at the end of the night when we gather for prayers and devotions. Much is asked of parents; most likely far more than any of us imagined when we "signed on" as young and idealistic people whose own brains hadn't finished developing. We were going to do it "right," we were sure. I know, now, that the only "right" is in the keeping on trying, in turning to the One who holds us in His hands - who holds our kids in His hands. It is in the praying for wisdom, the giving of thanks, and being parents who keep on loving, and holding each other up in prayer.

So very thankful for this journey, construction and all.

Trusting in Him,