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Divide and Conquer is a Game Every Child Knows How to Play

toys at storeThe smallest children must rely on adults to supply all their needs, but soon, they learn how to get their own way. They want something they’ve been told they can’t have, and the wheels start turning. If Mom is decisive and consistent, she can withstand these forays. But, if she is the least bit equivocal, they plead and they whine. They cajole and convince. As soon as they sense Mom is wavering, they up their efforts. They can smell victory. Now, they’ve got her. What’s a few dollars to avoid a scene?

Kids hone these “negotiation” skills as they get older and the stakes get higher. No longer is it the My Little Pony or the Transformer toy, now it’s… Who can I hang out with? What am I allowed to say? How far can I push back curfew? Same kid, advanced version.

If Mom and Dad have discussed this child and agreed on the proper response to these onslaughts before the heat of battle, they can stand firm in the withering fire. But, if the child senses the smallest crevice between the two – perhaps Mom is willing to give a little while Dad is rigid and won’t discuss it (or vice versa) – the child knows this instantly. And plays it to his advantage. He approaches one without the other. He panders to one and not the other. He plays one against the other. Something inside of him knows, without ever having been taught or trained, how to drive a wedge between his opposition.

What is this inside us that seems to arrive with us, which convinces us we should have what we want or what others have and seeks things for our own good even though we aren’t old enough to know our own good? How is it that a ten or twelve year old knows that if she can set her opposition to arguing about their differences, she gets the upper hand? If she can sow distrust and division, perhaps even get them fighting among themselves, she can get away with whatever she wants.


  1. It’s born in us.
  2. It’s taught to us.
  3. It’s confirmed in us.

We are born with the desire to make our way. We are taught we should make our own way. We see that if we are very good at it, we can get what we want. In spite of, in the face of, in ignorance of, or in defiance of, the needs, wants and desires of every other being. That ‘good’ may displace the very humanity born in us.

We must guard against any desire we see in the other who seeks to set us at odds with our friend, our neighbor, our spouse, our child, or our best selves. It is a very clever force. When it senses wavering, indecision or dissension in us, it preys upon this. That’s how it gets its way. That’s how it wins.

It’s child play. And kids can be a holy terror, can’t they?


Open Letter to Santa


Dear Santa

That’s as far as I got on my letter. I don’t remember the last time I wrote a letter to Santa. But this year I have pledged to do one thing each day that a kid would do. Of course a kid would write a letter to Santa, so here it sits on my desk, its red and green letters staring back at me.

Why is it so difficult to write to Santa?

  • because I am not a kid? Maybe, but there are things on my Christmas list… why not write them?
  • because what I want doesn’t come from a store? Nice try, but that’s rationalization. Can’t I still ask?
  • because I don’t know where to begin. Now we’re getting somewhere.

The traditional, “I have been good this year” doesn’t cover all the bases. Can I lie to Santa? If he’s keeping a naughty and nice list, surely he knows all the not too nice things I did or said or didn’t do and lied about. So…

I have tried to be good this year but you know, it’s hard.

Stop stalling and get to the LIST!! What’s the harm in asking? But… isn’t asking selfish? Oh my goodness, what kid ever thinks about THAT? My adult-ness is disabling. I hope Santa understands.

So let’s ease into this… (after you bring the stuff for the kids and the dogs and my husband – because I want them to be happy – and after you bring stuff for people who really need stuff… if there is some extra room in your bag and it won’t weigh down your sleigh or be an undue burden for your tiny reindeer, could you…)

Oh my goodness how I avoid this conversation. Asking for what I really want, even if I am not sure I believe Santa can give it to me, is nearly impossible. Until I get started. Then it all tumbles out. I’m already at #8 before I realize that this list is a prayer. Item upon item are things I dearly, dearly long for. Specific things. And just for a moment it doesn’t seem selfish at all, it seems real, and I am not ashamed to ask.

#8. Bring me courage and nerve to speak up for these kids, even if it means risking my reputation.

Apparently, we need to ask for what we want so we can see what we really need.

I guess that about does it for this year, Santa. You know, you’re easier to talk to than the guy who could actually bring me these things. Why is that? Why, when I was a kid, was this so easy?

Santa, by any chance do you know Jesus? If you do, can you pass along my list? 

Thank you and Merry Christmas!



Now. Send or don’t send? Oh, this adult-ness is gonna take some time to get over!

Call me Classic, But Don’t Call Me Old

When my kids call me “classic,” it’s their not-so-veiled way of calling me old.

While growing older is something I can’t avoid, and don’t want to, given the alternative, old is not a way I want to be, especially not at Christmas.

It used to be easy to do kid-stuff when our children were small. Our Christmas season was filled with holiday fun for them. Getting the tree, decorating, baking cookies, caroling, pageants, parties, stringing lights or popcorn, making crafts, shopping, wrapping … oh, and keeping secret what was under the tree. That might have been the best part of all because it invited those little wondering minds to sneak under the tree when they thought I wasn’t looking to snoop, look at tags and maybe even give that box a shake or two. What delight there is in a child’s wonder! Some things never get old.

Somehow, though, as I have gotten older, the preparations have lost their luster. The kids do their own thing and their Christmas lists have gotten shorter. The gifts are more expensive, more detailed, and often just a request in an email link so I get just the right thing. After all, you can’t count on old mom to know where to get the latest in fashion, fad or technology. Gone are the snooping, the shaking and the secrets. When did we lose the wonder?

This year, however, we have puppies. Two adorable, energetic, exhausting, did I say lovable puppies, and they are full of mischief. The world is their play-thing; everything is for investigating, nibbling, tugging, splashing, eating, or pouncing on. Play is their purpose. Wonder is their world. IMG_3383 IMG_3453 (2)

When did I lose this? Can it be retrieved? That’s when I came across this in a magazine on my counter:

“Once a day, do what a kid would do.”

I could do this. I could … jump in the leaves, roll down the hill, splash in the puddle, gallop up the driveway… I could let play back in, classic play, simply by asking ‘what would a kid do?’  A kid would look at the lights in the sky and wonder if they could ever fly there. A kid would listen to the shrill whistle of a bird and wonder how a tiny animal could be SO LOUD. A kid would smell the smoky winter air and wonder which neighbor had a fire going and whether there were marshmallows.

Somehow, doing what a kid does even has me wondering what a kid thinks. The recipe? Fond memories, a still vivid imagination, some zany puppies, and an Advent pledge: “once a day, do what a kid would do.”

Unfortunately, what was so easy when the kids were small, now takes dedicated effort. So far I am resisting the urge to Google ‘how to be a kid.’ After all, spontaneity is the door to childhood and wonder is the key. I am putting my foot down: this Advent, I refuse to be an old fart. Wait, can I say that? Why yes, I’m a kid.

If kid gets too hard, maybe I’ll channel a puppy or two. Do you know the best thing about puppies? Even when they are engrossed in tussling and tugging on each other’s ears, they stop and run to you in sheer delight whenever you enter the room. Maybe that’s what will grow in me this Advent season, sheer delight when I see my Master coming.

Here’s the challenge: once a day, do what a kid would do. Of course, my kids will be completely embarrassed by me. Someday, when they have kids, I hope they’ll understand.

“Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” ~ Matthew 18:3

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