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pieces

By Michelle Lehnardt

I felt the tooth crack, and then shatter like a stone in the garden. Salt Lake’s finest and oldest buildings are formed from Rocky Mountain granite and yet one quick blow from my shovel fractures the rock into tiny grey and white crystals.

Spitting the fragments into my palm my tongue probes the hollow– how will I pay for this? what have I done wrong? why didn’t I go to my last check-up?– and then the next tooth crumbles and the next and the next, I’m coughing out shards and grief as I shake myself into wakefulness.

Dampened with sweat, I pull myself away from Mary’s curved form and tuck in blankets to replace my warmth. Erik is out of town and my bedroom is a minefield of toys and small bodies who love to play slumber party when daddy is gone. Tripping to the bathroom and a glass of water, I examine my teeth– imperfect, several cavities and a root canal for each baby– but clearly intact.

I’ve read that dreams about losing teeth symbolize a fear of losing your children. This rings true to me. Like every mother, I make a mental roll call several times a day. I’ve had my scares of Mary crawling back into the bath tub when I thought she was safely settled on the couch and calling the police to describe Hans at age 6: slim as a reed, white-blonde hair, mischievous blue eyes and a Superman tee shirt.

And I have the holocaust nightmares. Panicked vignettes where I’m scrambling to secure my children in an earthquake, a fire, a bomb, from masked enemies… Where is Gabriel? Stefan? I can’t find Ben! These dreams need no interpretation.

Frustratingly awake, I wander into the office where I’ve recently moved my computer. We’ve always kept the computer out in the family room free and open for everyone. But I’ve been writing and taking enough photos that I wanted a retreat– a place away from the chaos. At night, the room is cloaked in darkness, the drapes pulled, the only light emanates from my computer screen. Opening my blog account, I click through aimlessly and visit YouTube to watch a lampoon of Sesame Street.

And there it is: video reponses– the best of Playboy, Maxim, Hustler– rated X. My computer has every porn block possible but it’s still right there. Pornography is discussed openly and often in the Mormon church, naming it “more addictive than heroin; more destructive than war” and I’ve seen the ugly up-close details of two marriages devastated by the obsession.

But my boys, my boys are sweet and obedient; they are offended when the media implies that all teenage boys are interested in a perverted model of womanhood. Yet, in the dark hush of the office, I knew I was being a fool. Do I trust my boys? Yes. Do I trust my little ones at the beach? Yes. But I watch to make sure the riptides don’t carry them away.

I’m learning that motherhood is about endurance, longevity. I’ve been mothering for 17 years now and I’ll admit that I’m weary of crafts and playdoh and the endless question of what to make for dinner. In the past year I’ve been able to spread my wings a bit, renew old talents and taste morsels of praise. But my work at home is far from done. My older children need me just as much as my little ones. Not to pound the drum of my will, but as constant ever present background music.

Literally gnawing on these thoughts and a sugar-free caramel Nip(I need these when I’m stressed); I bite down hard.

Out come two tiny shards of my tooth.

Cautious now, my tongue appraises the sharp new edge and I begin dismantling my computer and moving it back to the kitchen. Dawn spills through the house, alarms ring upstairs and we begin the 2 hour process of showers, practicing, signing planners and making lunches as the boys leave at various times(7:15, 7:30 and 9 a.m.). Xander prays and I collect good-bye kisses as the three little boys race out the door.

Silence reigns for just a moment until I hear Mary’s voice. Kneeling on my bed, fairylike, surrounded by white comforters and pillows, she reaches for me, “You know what I would wish if wishing wells were real and if I had a real wishing well?

I brush away the cloud of fine hair veiling her eyes, “What would you wish, Pinky?”

“That your only job was to be my mommy.”

She folds into my arms as we plan our morning— paint nails, fold laundry, mix up sugar cookie dough and an episode of “Word Girl” before preschool. And then two hours where my time is my own. I DO have time to pursue my interests, but it must be carefully carved and chiseled to the contours of my family.

I need to call the dentist– and soon– but for now I’m indebted to this razor-edged reminder of all that remains.

How do you monitor your children’s activities? How do you monitor their access to computer and video games? What about cell phones? Ipods? Movies? Friends? Where do parents cross the line between caring and annoying?

About Michelle Lehnardt

(Blog Team) I'm the kind of mom who drives through mud puddles, throws pumpkins off the roof and lets the kids move the ping-pong table into the kitchen for the summer. Despite (or probably, because of) my immaturity, my five sons and one daughter are happy, thriving, funny people. I'll climb a mountain with you, jump into a freezing lake hand-in-hand or just sit with you while you cry. I believe the gospel of Jesus Christ will heal the earth. Founder of buildyourteenager.com, scenesfromthewild.net and rubygirl.org.

18 thoughts on “pieces”

  1. I am so sorry your week has been awful Michelle! If only the bad was so easy to spit out of our mouths as dream teeth…

    It's interesting that your post comes as I'm preparing my lesson for RS tomorrow from Elder Bednar's CES address on "Things As They Really Are". It has made me consider the use I make of the internet, and that of my boys.

    I have been more careful of late checking on the games they play online, making sure that there is no "softly softly" drifting into grey areas. They both know that I will decide which games are appropriate, and we will discuss accordingly until it's clear. They get no more than an hour each day for computer/playstation/DS combined, and that's only after jobs etc and behaviour's good. Electronic withdrawal is the most effective punishment in my house!

    I'm finding TV is a little harder to deal with, particularly as tv really is their culture. More discussion (and greater incentive to start my FHE series theme from Strength of Youth…)

    As for protective vs nosy.. I have a responsibility to protect them as far as I can. I don't know if I'd read a journal, but it depends on the circumstance. Hopefully I'll be able to discern the difference between necessity and interest!

    Hope your week improves enough to relax a little.

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  2. Ack, I had read the origional post this morning, before I was fully functional, and wasn't coherent enough to comment. I came back and it was gone!

    Anyway, I love both of the posts, and I totally get the struggle we as parents have to protect our kids. Especially when they live in a culture right now of constant bombardment of negative and dangerous imagery! My oldest is 8 and I wonder what she talks about with her friends.

    We had an experience the other day, when we were at the pool, and my husband was listening to a conversation that 3 teenage (15-16 yo) girls were having. (he wasn't eavsdropping or being creepy, they were not being, umm, discreet, shall we say) He was completly flabbergasted by what they were talking about. Everything from boyfriends, oral sex, ditching school, sneaking out of the house, lieing to thier parents, birth control and so much more.
    After we came home, he pulled me aside and in a panicked way asked me if we were indeed doing the right thing by even having had children, and how can we ever allow our daughters out of our sight. (our sons, also on the radar)
    I guess we can trust them about as far as we can throw them, but we have to let them make mistakes that they can learn from, but that won't damage them.

    We are all walking a tightrope as parents. I really hope that safety net is strong!

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  3. we just don't watch tv for the most part. my kids enjoy Nature, Nova, and Nova Science Now on PBS whenever there is a new episode on (and we're not otherwise engaged), and that's the extent of our tv viewing. this has greatly limited the amount of outside influence from the media that they absorb. the computer is a bigger part of our lives, but so far they are only allowed to visit a few kid-friendly sites.

    i wouldn't read a journal unless something horrid had happened (eg: abduction, death). that's a violation of privacy and right to one's own thoughts that's hard to recover from. I know first hand.

    michelle is one of the greatest moms i've ever known. ♥

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  4. I went to your site and read the original, you shouldn't have edited – wonderful post!

    What we do to keep tabs on our kids? We're always there, we go into bedrooms, we ask what that is on TV, we watch when they play on the computer (it is in the family room), we ask about the books they are reading, we know their friends or they don't go anywhere with them. I feel lucky to be at home so I can be in my kids lives and in their faces when the need arises.

    Beyond the usual there isn't much we can do. If our child wanted to do illegal and immoral things there isn't much we could do to stop them. Much like if someone wanted to break into our house we couldn't do much (beyond extreme measures) to stop them either. I don't want to take extreme measures with my kids, I want them to know I trust them and in the end it is their life. I love them and don't want them to screw up, but if they do there is always the atonement. That is why I can sleep at night.

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  5. Oh, not saying you don't believe in the atonement and that's why you woke in the night. I didn't think of that possible misunderstanding until after I hit "submit".

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  6. OK, I really am crazy today. I reverted back to the original post after your kind comments.

    I never said I had any self confidence…

    Oh and jendoop– I certainly wouldn't have taken your comment the wrong way. I'm just so thrilled to have someone read it!

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  7. Michelle, I'm glad you put the original post back in.:-) I am struggling with this issue of how much to monitor my children's activities as well. I have always walked on the overprotective side, but now am seeing some negative fallout, so I'm having to reevaluate. I love your balanced approach and am interested to read the other comments. I like Kshaw's tightrope analogy—that's how I feel most of the time!

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  8. So true about failing internet filters. I also worry about my kids' friends' cell phones. Our children could be exposed to porn in the safest environments, even at church, heaven help us.

    It's all about teaching boys that their sexuality is a God-given power. The enticements of scantily-clad women are Satan's way of gaining control over that power.

    Part of a parent's job is to teach kids to become respinsible adults. They'll discuss sexuality with friends, do we discuss with them our views of sexuality?

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  9. This is interesting and timely. The other day I took my two young children (7 and 3) to a movie as part of our school district's summer movie program for elementary school children. The movie was Igor, and it was extremely inappropriate, had alot of sexual content in visuals, actions, words, and general theme. I don't know if the movie producers intended it to be for kids (it was animated), but even if they didn't, it was appalling that the theater would select it specifically for this age group.

    Anyway, the interesting thing was how much I wrestled with my own self about whether we should walk out. The family behind us left after the first 10 minutes, and even a that point I knew I should do the same. Things got progressively worse, but I was worried about having to deal with my 7-year-old's meltdown if we left, and other things like that. No one else was leaving (and the group in the theater was predominantly LDS; we live in Utah). Finally, I thought to myself, "The spirit is practically screaming at you to leave, and you're still sitting here. What is up with that???" And so we did leave, and my son actually did not get mad, in fact he agreed with the choice.

    This was a wake-up call to me as to how it is so easy to become lax and to ignore things. It made me a bit ashamed of myself for having such a hard time standing up for the right, yet glad that I did make the right choice. It has also made me more aware, more determined to not have a repeat of that experience. Evil can be so subtle, and we need to be willing to meet it head on and not compromise.

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  10. We've had to teach that just because it's animated (or anime) it doesn't mean it's for kids! What a shame!

    Keeping computer use in a public area is important, but monitoring that use is, too.

    Can't say we're the best, but we keep trying!

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  11. My computer is also in a "public use" area and I try to set time limits. I'm not much of an enforcer–truth be told. I think I need to buy a "wind up" timer or something like my parents used for my piano practice growing up.

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  12. I just realized that I rented "Igor" for my kids to watch awhile ago. I vaguely remember my son telling me later, after they'd watched it while I wasn't home, that it wasn't a very good movie and that it had questionable content. I didn't pay much attention and didn't think anything more about it, but now I realize that I shouldn't have rented it without doing my homework. I just assumed, since it was animated, that it was okay. My mistake.

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  13. You know how much I LOVE this piece (ahem) Michelle.

    Love it.

    My favorite quote related to this topic comes from a former bishop: "We want to put our kids in an armored car, but we have to help them put on the armor of God."

    So, first, in my mind is the doctrine. We are trying hard to repeatedly help them understand the need to keep their spirits pure, to keep the stuff of the world out.

    In addition, we don't have tv/cable (we do do some movies on VCR/DVD), I keep them away from internet (minus school and now family search indexing), we encourage play at friends rather than video games, etc (and we got a Wii so the friends could come here…and we don't get typical video game games…we do the active, moving around stuff…still games, though….we encourage creative/active play w/o screens).

    We know, though, that we can't control it all, so the doctrine, again, becomes fundamental in how we approach it. I don't know how else to really protect them but to help them feel the Spirit of the guidance we are given, and to help them recognize from many experiences w/ the Spirit when something violates it.

    My sister sent me this article recently…something worth pondering. Supports Elder Bednar's recent talk on this subject.

    Makes me want to be all the more careful about not jumping into tech toys too soon while their brains are developing. I figure the longer I can put off the whole phone/ipod/texting thing, the better.

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  14. As far as animation goes, there is definitely plenty out there that's not for kids. Even some movies that are advertised for children are really not for them; the producers are just trying to reach as wide an audience as possible since they will earn more money that way. My husband loves comics and has been reading them since he was about 12 (and he likes to write and illustrate), so early in my marriage I learned all about animation and cartoons that are not for kids. We keep all of ours in the office where the kids aren't allowed.

    But, we've learned in our meager experience so far that we have to focus as much on the positive as the negative with our kids. My kids are only 6 and 3, so we haven't gotten into very many 'big' issues yet, but I've already had the feeling that we can't just spend our time saying 'no'; we have to say 'yes' too. Like with the comics; my husband found a few titles that are just for little kids and appropriate for them and so he and my daughter bond each week over her new issue of 'Superfriends' or "Super Girl". Same thing with movies; there are plenty of movies and shows we don't let our kids watch, but plenty that we do. I research nearly every movie we let them watch to find out what the plot is and what's in it (there are several good sites out there for it). At the same time, we are clear with our kids about why we make certain choices. They know that some things are for grownups or even older kids. I think as they get older I will make sure to include them in the decision process. Probably won't let them read the website, but I think it's good to say "let's talk about what's in that movie; I don't think it's a good choice, do you?" We have to teach them good skills and good decision-making abilities. And we have to let them make mistakes. The hardest thing for me is still figuring out how much trouble to let them get themselves in. And we have to make sure we're there backing them up too. I think the positive teaching goes with the gospel too–don't just teach about the things we can't or shouldn't do, but we should also teach about the positive aspects of things like the love of our Heavenly Father and the help of the Atonement in changing ourselves.

    One other small thing when it comes to teens and preteens; my husband and I have both discussed how we wished that we had leaders–or even better, parents–who told us that some curiousity about sex is normal. When kids are going through puberty they have a lot of strong feelings and they are going to be curious. I know both of us felt terrible because we were tempted by things like those internet links. I think acknowledging that it's OK to feel a little curious or to feel tempted will give kids a better basis for making decisions so they don't panic and assume they are sinning just by feeling interested. Like I said, my kids are still young and we haven't gotten to that point yet, so I haven't quite figured how to approach that yet. But it is something to think about.

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  15. I dream about my teeth falling out all the time! In fact, I'm scared when I go to the dentist that they will pop my teeth out! Especially after I broke a tooth while biting my nails, and had to go get a crown on.

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  16. Wow, can't believe I missed this great post on one of my favorite topics…because I was fighting hacker attack on the Segullah site.

    We're a Mac household. Recently I updated to their new OS and I am in love with the parental controls. I can set time limits on each kids account, both by how many minutes a day (you can set it longer for the weekend), and also sleeping hours during which their login is simply not available. Love it, love it.

    I used to have a hard stance against chat. No chat, anytime. But now I do let my teens do chat, because it's how they do phone calls. There are good things to, group study sessions in separate houses the kids self-organized over chat, for example. Even a "no-screen" day is going to include half an hour of computer time for my older kids, to check their emails and check into chat.

    I thought Elder Bednar's fireside talk was fascinating–we heard it in Relief Society Sunday.

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  17. thanks for all your tips on Mac controls Johnna. I hadn't even looked into that and now I will.

    Love your thoughts m&m– the armor of God!

    You are so right foxyj (about lots of things), we need to discuss healthy curiousity about sexuality at home. My husband is european so he's good at that sort of talk!

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