Grace Notes

GRACE NOTE: n. in theater, a small gesture, evocative of character. / GRACE: n. unmerited divine favor. / NOTE: 1.v. to observe with care. 2.v. to preserve in writing. 3.n. an informal record.

Sunday, October 07, 2018

6 October 2018

Yesterday we baptized my firstborn, and this is the eternal truth of the day, the everlasting accomplishment, the reminder of the promise.  It may appall my friends from more traditional church backgrounds--which would pretty much be everyone--but we baptized her ourselves in the presence of the people who love her the most (at least, some of them).  In a ceremony at the home of our best friends, whose oldest son was also baptized, we four adults (both of us mothers having been prayer partners for almost 25 years now) promised to uphold each other's children in their pursuit of the knowledge of God.  The two children each declared their faith, and we baptized them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, relying for authority on the priestly commission given to all believers.

We used the ceremony from the Book of Common Prayer but cut it from 18 pages to one. We adults made our promises enthusiastically and loudly.  They made theirs sweetly and happily. We cheered and kissed them when they rose out of the water.  Then we had cake and small gifts. It was a little hippie-dippy I guess, like a home birth for being born again.

Today I've been thinking about how much the story of the Bible is the story of mankind's having lost the knowledge of God's love. For so long I've thought of the story of the Fall as the story of man's having fallen into disfavor with God, but now I think of the whole story of the Bible as a story of restoration and steady pursuit, not a story of twists in favor and disfavor.  I've also come to think that our holiness, our righteousness, our moral perfection are not determined by whether we sin or not, but by whether we really believe that we are loved. For me this weekend, with everything else happening and my great sadness over it, this means that to fail to enjoy the breakfast we all made together (enormous waffles, tons of bacon, rich coffee), to be so sorrowful over the griefs of the world that I had no space for gratitude and rejoicing, would be a victory for the wrong side, an injury or a diminishment of the Holy Spirit that lives in me as well.  This is what I wish for our newly baptized brother and sister--that their hearts always, no matter what is happening in the world, have room for joy, that they always, no matter what is happening in their lives, know everlasting love.

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Found Poem

From my students' notes for American Literature 2, 1865-the Present.

The world is something we constantly respond to.
A very dramatic reveal!

His life seemed to be diminished [when he died].
The author wants it to seem malevolent,
creates a stereotypical image
for middle-aged women possibly to be destroyed later on
in the story.

She possibly suffered from psychosis.
She could be suffering from schizophrenia.
She smells things that are not real.
Possibly referring to a cat. Or another beast of its kind.
This is foreshadowing for the actual death of the dog.
The use of horses as a symbol 
is another important aspect of this section. Life continues

The poem is not even a full sentence. Easy to read.
This poem is written in a way that is easy
to relate to.
Each part is organized into its own
section: Hardly any other men were taken in
their pajamas.

He seemed to portray waking up 
           in a positive light which is unlike
many other works that portray waking
as not so great.
It is highly misinterpreted.

A colloquy:
 “He has hypersexualized gays which might not have given them a better public perception.”
“His candor on his personal relationships with drugs and gay sex were not meant to give the public a better perception.”
“He is pointing out how we raise our children to be closed-minded, continuing the cycle of intolerance and ignorance.”
“He has an interest in discussing taboo topics.”
It is quite interesting to see how people conceal
their disgust or outright show it. It reveals
a lot about the differences in personality.

After slaves were let free, they were promised
a goat and 4 acres of land.
I agree that this was perhaps the best part.

it is not common for people to have close relationships
with their baker.
This immediately arouses suspicion
to the readers, because if someone did
kill this huge bear
they would certainly brag about it. 
The overbearing amount of information
doesn’t give us enough to detail what actually happened [with the bear].

Thank you for pointing that out!
However I do believe that respecting
the armed forces is necessary.

Although many people strive
to get an education, I would personally say this
was more of a traumatic experience
for them.

And also for me. 
World without end.


Sunday, May 13, 2018

I Feel Weird About Mothers' Day

I feel weird about Mothers’ Day.  I feel about Mothers’ Day the way I feel about my wedding anniversary, which is to say that without thinking about it in any conscious way, I’d always assumed that it was kind of a private affair to be recognized among the parties involved.  I am regularly surprised (though not in a bad way) when people that I have not given birth to wish me a happy Mothers’ Day. It doesn’t feel intrusive or anything, just unexpected, like thanking me for a favor I've done for a third party. It probably goes without saying that I don’t often think to wish other people a happy Mothers’ Day, except for my own actual mother.

Because I’ve been laboring under this entirely ahistorical delusion about the private (as opposed to public) significance of the day, I have a bit of an outsider’s perspective on the social aspect of Mothers’ Day, which feels to me to be increasing in volume.  I’ve noticed people/organizations on social media, at church, etc., making a praiseworthy effort to be inclusive about Mothers’ Day—remembering people who aren’t mothers, people who want to be mothers but aren’t, people who have lost their mothers, people who have bad relationships with their mothers, people who do the work of nurturing which is just like mothering, etc.  I am glad that all different kinds of experiences are recognized, whether on Mothers’ Day or not. But sometimes I think that many of us—mothers, people who aren’t mothers, the whole lot of us--would be better served by less sentimentalizing of motherhood every day of the year and especially on Mothers’ Day, when that stuff seems to hit an annual peak.  It’s as if we’ve made the celebration of Mothers’ Day such a big public deal and elevated motherhood above all other activities such that we then have to offer comfort to others for falling short of this elevated state.

There’s what feels like a strange (but familiar) dynamic where the real work of motherhood is oversentimentalized in a rhetorical sense even as it’s undervalued in a practical sense. Where motherhood is routinely identified as “the most important job in the world” but where the skills involved in mothering aren’t believed to be transferable to the workplace (witness the difficulties many women have reentering the workforce in spite of former education and experience because they are perceived as mothers rather than potential talent).  Where motherhood is both identified with other things, like the work of nurturing, but also so essentialized that to be a mother is to be placed into an exclusive (yet normative!) class of women. 

The actual means of celebrating Mothers’ Day also feels a little odd to me.  I think it’s nice that the kids try to do things like make breakfast in bed or let me sleep in—it’s sweet, and I think it’s good for them to express their gratitude, which mine are young enough to do with conspiratorial, chaotic joy.  Maybe it’s that a lot of the public (as opposed to private) efforts to build up hype around Mothers’ Day feels, somehow, marketed or performed.  The message communicated is often “You deserve ___!”  This message (the heart of so many advertising campaigns directed at women) bothers me all the time because I’m basically a Puritan with the suspicion that maybe all we really deserve is the chance to toil over the earth and hope it yields enough for survival—but it especially sounds an off-key note to me with regard to motherhood because I’m grateful to be mother. I’m happy to have the opportunity to have children. I hoped for and chose to have them. I don’t need a reward for it, at least not an extrinsic reward from the rest of society.  Sure, it’s a lot of work, but it’s work that for the most part I’m happy about and that I decided to take on (I also don’t expect “Professors’ Day”).  It’s lovely for my children to recognize what I do for them. But it feels disproportionate to expect that from the rest of society, where everyone is doing the unheralded work of their own lives in so many different ways. 

I’m not trying to hate on Mothers’ Day, or criticize efforts to recognize mothers, or take anything away from people who don’t feel appreciated in their roles as mothers (or not) on a daily basis. On the contrary, I think mothers who feel unappreciated should be supported with more than an annual bouquet or massage certificate, and people who feel undervalued for not being mothers should be recognized with all the honor they deserve. I kind of wonder whether our public and commercial sentimentality about Mothers’ Day obscures our need to recognize and support the people we name on that day—the ones who are and aren’t mothers—in meaningful and consistent ways throughout the year.

Saturday, February 27, 2016

Grand Opening

For the last year almost, Gillian has been closely watching the demolition of a building at the corner of the street you turn onto to get to our house.  Each day on her way to preschool and then kindergarten, she would observe the progress having been made and tuck the details away, once in a while offering the family a report.  Sometimes, passing the site early in the morning or late at night and seeing the bulldozers parked, she'd be aghast with disapproval: "They're not working again?" (She's always liked demolition and construction--when she was four and saw the roof being removed on a different building, she commented to Sam and me that she had figured out what an "open house" was.)  

After a long period of inactivity, construction began on the cleared lot.  This too she monitored, and in the last couple of months, things have really started to move along--it turns out it's a restaurant, and they're at the hiring stage.  Sometimes in the evenings you can see people in there!  Gillian tells us all about it. Allison Clare asked one day in the car, "Do you think they'll have a grand opening?" When I replied in the affirmative, she instructed Gillian carefully, "Okay, you keep an eye on it and tell us when you think they are having a grand opening so we can go."  

So Gillian keeps watch.  "I think they are almost ready to open," she says authoritatively, "They just need their tables and chairs set up." Something about the seriousness with which she takes this responsibility--that we are all depending on her to let us know so that we don't miss it!--is so very six-years-old.  She came flying up the sidewalk from the bus the other day with the news that her friends had said it would be open next week, and I'm almost sorry--I've so enjoyed her dispatches.

Family Fun Night

Last night was one of the nights Sam and I most dread: Family Fun Night at the elementary school.  The fact that we dread it probably shows our poor sportsmanship about certain aspects of life, but it's true nonetheless. The flyer about Family Fun Night had come home in someone's school folder earlier in the week, and there had been multiple PTA emails about it, but neither of the girls had mentioned it.  Sam and I in hushed voices after bedtime decided that if nobody said anything about it, we wouldn't bring it up, but if they--on their own--said they wanted to go, we'd go.  This meant that on Friday afternoon, we still didn't know if we were all going . . . until the girls tumbled off the bus bubbling over with excitement, each expressed in their own unmistakeable way:

AC, frantic with joy: Mom!  Mom!  Mom!  It's Family Fun Night tonight!  Can we go?  I promised my friends I would meet them and we made an assembly point at the library.  I have to go so I won't miss them!  Can we go?  Please?
Gillian, braced for disappointment: Can we go?  I told my friends that we might not be able to go but I would ask . . . but I know that we might not be able to go.

So, we went.  Part of the fun of FFN is that parking is limited, and you have to park at the high school and take a shuttle, which means waiting with all the kids for the bus in the dark and cold, and then riding the bus and then swimming through the sea of humanity in the school while carrying armloads of coats and various crafts and trying to keep track of all the kids in mass chaos.  The classrooms all have games, like "Toilet Toss."  Two buckets were set up with toilet seats on top of them, and the kids got to throw rolls of toilet paper in.  While AC exulted in her toilet-tossing skills, we tried to keep LG entertained and distracted because he's done that more than once at home on his own and all we needed was to remind him of how much fun it was.  In the gym were a disco ball and music and hula hoops--kids raced around with them and we saw one child get knocked over by a hula hoop to the face (Sam, musingly: "I can't believe it took so long for that to happen").  They had pizza and bingo in the cafeteria, crafts in the art room.  There were fun moments, and it always touches me that people do these things for the kids.  The PTA had rented a photo booth, and the kids all got their picture taken with silly props.

Why do we dread it?  I don't know.  The crowds this year were much more manageable, as were the overall number of games.  The PTA probably would have liked it to have been bigger, but it was much more manageable this year I think.  To be honest, Sam's and my idea of Family Fun Night involves all of us lying around on the couches in the living room, reading.  Not leaving the house, and certainly not taking a shuttle bus anywhere.  Our poor children will probably have to drag us out, or they'll just go out without us.  But they are our fun, toilet-tossing or no.

Friday, January 01, 2016


People often wax rhapsodically on about the love that children introduce into your life when you have them, and talk about how they force you to enter that perfect state of presence and attention that it seems we are all seeking in multitasking, distracted modern America.  While I'm sure these paeans to parenting are quite genuine, they often sound sort of abstract to me, inaccessible and without what the poets call an objective correlative, some real point of reference held in common between the speaker and the listener.  I realize that this post may end up feeling much the same, but nonetheless, I've been thinking about what my children have given me--in addition to two very nice felt and foam Christmas tree ornaments and a gingerbread man (that I baked) decorated with a mixture of frosting and, I'm sure, copious amounts of their own saliva ("Please don't put the frosting tube in your mouth before using it," I said more than once).

For me, it's been like this: Before I had children, I would have thought of myself as a relatively patient and controlled person.  I don't typically stress out about traffic; I figure being anxious about it won't get me there any faster.  I virtually never lose my temper about work-related things, and interpersonal conflict typically inspires me to compose retorts in my head but I'm not a shouter or a door-slammer or a thrower of objects.  Or at least, I wasn't.  Then I had three small children within about 5 years, and I have shouted more than I care to admit ("GET IN THE CAR" or "I'VE TOLD YOU TO STOP SEVEN TIMES ALREADY"), slammed a door or two, and even once in a now-famous incident thrown something (a book onto the floor, which in a highly unfortunate concatenation of events, then triggered the vibration-sensor alarm system on the back door, which emits an ear-piercing siren).  It's not like I'm doing this stuff all the time, but it's all happened over the course of my almost 8-year parenting career.

These things typically happen at a moment where not one but two things at least are going very wrong, while at the same time I also have to do something that I am being prevented from doing often by the people who would most benefit from my doing it.  E.g., this morning, two individuals were crying loudly due to unrelated grievances (neither of which from a rational perspective warranted tears), and I was pretty sure that these disproportionate responses were related to low blood sugar since we hadn't eaten breakfast yet. I spoke calmly to each child, listened to her and then him, offered solutions and explanations, and tried to make breakfast as fast as I could.  Inevitably, breakfast was delayed more and more by people crying and clinging to me and asking me questions (like "Why is my breakfast so late?" and "Can you also make sausage?" and "Why does it have to be sausage?").  The very thing they were doing (clinging and crying) was preventing me from doing what I needed to do to stop the clinging and crying.  Even this was more or less manageable until someone else came in and asked one innocent, if ill-timed question, at which point I became exasperated and said something like, "Argh! If I could just make the breakfast, but everyone is preventing me from actually doing it!"

So that was this morning.  And I wasn't, as I tell my daughters that I want to help them be, my best self.   And I hope that they understand that even though I wasn't, my loss of my temper was not their fault and they were loved, and I was trying.  Because there are so, so many other moments where there's just one child crying, and that one person is crying over something absolutely absurd ("tomorrow is already today!"), when my entire rational apparatus says, "This makes no sense.  There is no optimal outcome here.  Abandon mission!" When my middle daughter is disappointed and devastated and angry and nothing I say is right, but if I try to leave, she wails for me to be with her (not too close, but not out of the room) while she cries.  And it doesn't make any sense, really, for me to stay, since it seems like I'm not really helping and there are other things I should be attending to.  But because she wants me to, I do stay.  And this is what she's given me, like her sister before her--a willingness to drop the calculating, rational approach and instead to just feel how much I love her and stay even though I'm not helping her.  To abandon efforts to make things better according to my own judgments, and dwell in that love alone for a few minutes.

Often this feels exasperating and inefficient and useless.  But to watch my hope of resolving a problem drift away and to choose just to be with her clinging to her five-year-old frustration in what feels to her an unjust world, to abide with her, is a kind of spiritual discipline.  It's practice.  It's the practice of submerging ourselves in love, over and over again, fruitlessly and without hope of seeing a particular result, until it becomes easier, until it becomes habit, until it becomes part of who we are, in spite of our rational calculus and our logical frame of mind and the schedules through which we hope to do as much good as efficiently as possible.

We do this with other people too--we choose to be selfless.  Usually with adults though, the dramas unfold more slowly, with an phone call and then some time for pondering, then an email, say, and there's time to muster your reasons for doing the right thing.  This can make it feel easier, but the very intentionality required can also make it harder.  And with adults there's fallout and memory.  With these little ones, there's the present and that's it; you're there in the room, close but not too close, or not.  And you can stay miserably wishing that you could get something else done, or you can feel how hard it must be to be five years old and you can beam empathy out at this little sinner who's so torn up.  You practice, and it gets easier.  You submit to love, you fold yourself down into it, and you find that in spite of your very limited self, it's endless inside of you.