Confrontation at the Post Office, available at: ForYourMarriage.org


Happily Even After

Confrontation at the Post Office


June 28, 2010

Before I begin sharing a little story, first let me say that I highly respect the Postal Service and am most grateful for the very hard work they do…

I had a time-sensitive package to mail, so I ended up having to take Simon (4) and Lucy (2) to the post office with me.  We ended up stopping at the post office closest to Simon’s Montessori school (a Franciscan Montessori school, how cool is that?).  This particular office is VERY big.  They have lots of post office boxes, mail supplies, a passport station, greeting cards and something like six separate service stations.  Unfortunately, at the very busy noon hour, only two of the stations were servicing the line (even though there were more workers at the other stations NOT servicing the line) and the line was about 10-12 people long when we got in.

I imagine many parents have gone through the same feelings I had when I initially walked in: Thinking, “Hmmm, is this going to be too much with the children?” and then either cutting and running or pushing on through.  Simon and Lu seemed to be in a good place and I had to get this package in the mail, so I pushed on through. 

At first the two of them were staying pretty close to me, asking questions and looking around.  Then Simon asked if he could go look at some of the packing materials.  Lucy followed him over and they gradually moved on to the greeting cards, looking at pictures and chatting in little child talk back and forth.  At this point I am still eight people back in line and the children are probably about three yards away from me.  They would come check in from time to time and then go back to looking.  Then Simon realized Lucy was following him and he didn’t like that, but we managed to turn it into a game where I would hold Lu, he would hide and she would go find him.  Well, when she found him they began chasing each other in a circle around one of the displays. 

Now, I acknowledge whole-heartedly, that I get irked when a parent pays no attention to their children’s behavior in public and their children act like little hellions.  However, Lu and Simon were away from ALL the other patrons and counters, the display was solid and not something that could tip and they were being very quiet even as they chased round and round it.

Then the confrontation:

Postal worker (leaning over the counter, past the patron he is helping): “You are going to have to stop them from doing that. This isn’t a playground.”

Me (embarrassed but also slightly annoyed because the children had held it together admirably for over 15 minutes and deserved props for that):  “With all due respect, if the line wasn’t so long, they wouldn’t need to do that.”

Postal worker (not making eye contact but not backing down):  “Well, that’s just the way it is.”

Me (not really capable of backing down where my children are concerned): “Well, they’re children and that’s just the way it is.”

Leaving the post office (after holding the children right next to me and being taken care of by a different postal worker) there was so much going through my head.  Of course I called Joshua immediately and recounted the incident for him.  Happily, he laughed heartily at the exchange…then, he noted that I don’t take guff from anyone. And that got me thinking.

I do take a little bit of pride in being able to stand up for myself, and that is part of what was going on there.

I also recognized soon after becoming a mother that I really stand my ground where my children are concerned (hyper-mother bear instinct), and that was also part of what was going on there. 

The main thing I got to thinking about though, was “What is this like when it’s aimed at  Joshua?  What does Joshua have to put up with or wade through when I feel like I am just standing up for myself?”  When we get into conversations or discussions and I have a ready retort or can’t simply receive his input with some reflective silence?  I’ll have to try to be more conscious of this in those moments with him.  He’s a saint to bear with me…but he clearly gets a kick out of when someone else is on the receiving end!

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Restorative Niche Activities

Restorative Niche Activities

Winter is just sitting on top of us like a mean big brother who does not really care how “un-fun” the game has become. He is bigger than us and we just have to deal with it. I am an only child, so this is an entirely made-up scenario – but it seems plausible.

It is hard to wake up each day to another dark, cold morning, get children to school on slick roads or through snow, then off to work, only to pick up children, hope to get home before dark, make supper, do homework, bedtime routine, and then repeat. Granted, this is more or less what 75% of the year looks like, but somehow it is harder in February and March. As parents we can just feel devoid of energy and inspiration—empty.

That emptiness makes it very hard to be at out best for our children and our spouses.

We often tell ministry students, “You can’t minister from an empty cup,” meaning you have to attend to taking care of yourself and then minister from your overflow. Otherwise you are working from a deficit that will never be replaced (Bernard of Clairvaux).

In marriage and family life we do not always get the opportunity to fully attend to ourselves—to fill our cups. We rarely have the time and energy to exercise as much or even when we might want to; to pray as much, when, or even in the manner we might feel called; or to meet up with friends, go on retreat, or travel. We don’t even get to dictate our own sleep patterns!

One of the ways Joshua and I have begun to help one another in this regard is to carve out space for “restorative niche activities.” This is a phrase used by Matt Bloom, a sociologist whose research helps ministers flourish in ministry. It describes activities that meet two criteria: they are activities that we do well enough to pursue a sense of mastery; and they are activities that we do out of intrinsic motivation—simply for the joy we experience in the activity itself.

A variety of activities can be restorative, such as knitting, golf, painting, gardening, or model railroading. Bloom advises that for a restorative niche to really contribute to our flourishing, we need to engage in it regularly. Regularly, for him, means at least once a week.

Now if you are like me, one of the hardest parts of practicing restorative niche activities is just finding out what yours are. Josh’s is easy—baseball. He is part of an informal league that plays during summer, and he likes to make it to the batting cages when he can in the “off-season.”

I was happy to find an activity that suits the winter weather: ice-skating. I love playing on the ice. It is something that I do well enough that it is fun, and something that I would enjoy doing even better. When I am on the ice trying out new things, I totally lose track of time. That is one of the hallmarks of a true restorative niche—losing track of time.

This winter, Joshua has encouraged me to carve out a day or two each week to ice skate during the noon hour. It really is a lovely break from the day. It is refreshing in a way that has nothing to do with exercise and everything to do with clearing my mind and focusing on something for its own sake, not for a specific outcome.

The busy-ness of contemporary family life and its attendant stressors make it almost impossible not to be focused on goals and outcomes. We often need to plan our days out minute-by-minute so that everything fits. Our lives would be a mess without some sense of order and effort at planning and execution.

Restorative niche activities remind us how to play. How to just do something for its own sake and find ourselves in the fun of it. One of the ways Joshua and I support each other in marriage is by encouraging each other’s full flourishing. Just because the demands of parenting can easily become all-consuming does not mean that we should entirely lose our identity as individuals.

When we are whole in ourselves, when our “cups are full,” we are able to give not from a deficit but from our overflow. Such is the abundance of God’s love.


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Confrontation at the Post Office, available at: ForYourMarriage.org
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