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.

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

Gifts

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.

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Recently Overheard

November 2016

J: Hey Daddy-O.
Sam: Hey Little Guy.
J: Say, “hey, Little Guy-O.”
Sam: Hey Little Guy-O.

Next day
Sam: Hey Little Guy-O.
J: Daddy, we are not playing O.

1 December 2016

Gillian: looking out back window: I just saw wild turkeys. They were partying because they survived Thanksgiving.  [I think she picked this up from her babysitter, the magnificent Miss Melissa, or as LG calls her, “Weesa.”]

3 December 2016

I come downstairs in the evening dressed for a campus panel in a sweater and jeans and, perhaps notably, lipstick/perfume. 

Gillian gasps: Mom looks so beautiful today!  Mom, you look so beautiful!
AC comes flying out of the dining room to give me a hug: And she smells even better!

4 December 2016

J, waking up in crib in the morning after Sam put him to bed, does a little twirly almost-somersault from sleeping on one side—pivoting around the point of his shoulder and pushing up: Mommy!  You are back home!

5 December

Gillian earns “mommy and daddy sleepover”—spending the night in our bed.  Then asks if AC can join.  Who can deny such sisterly generosity?  But they go to bed first, stake out huge territory in the middle.  Sam and I climb into bed and cling to the edges.

I barely sleep, eventually climb out of bed with small throw on floor.  Then keep rolling around and getting uncovered.  Carpet itchy too.  Hip aching.  Get comforter from AC’s room.  Set it up.  Try to sleep.  Need to turn it around.  Finally sleep a bit.

6 December

We wake up from family sleepover. 
AC, hopping down from my spot in the bed: I slept GREAT!
*bitterness*

Gillian earns plastic glasses (has wanted glasses for months—“I’m the only one who doesn’t have glasses!).  They have big pink plastic frames and look a little like safety goggles but she loves them. 
G to AC: Do they make me look smarter?
AC: Yes.

7 December 2016

AC wakes up early and I’m already awake too.  Comes in our bed for a half hour of lying stretched out, arms wrapped around each other.  Such a good cuddler.

11 December 2016

AC at sibling: GET OUT OF MY ROOM.
A few minutes later, AC comes to me tearfully: You don’t even have to say it. I already feel bad about it.
Poor little Munchkin—such a temper to learn to master.

12 December 2016

AC: We’re going to Papaw’s house, Little Guy.  Mamaw died.
Me: She went to heaven, Ally Cat.
AC: That’s what happens when you die.  Your spirit goes to heaven to live with God.
Me: That’s right.
AC: Little Guy, Mamaw died and went up to heaven.  Heaven is way up past the sky.
Little Guy: Is he with his space ship?  [ himself] Does he go in his space ship?
AC: No, Little Guy, heaven is beyond outer space.

16 December 2016

In the car on the way home from dropping Gillian at kindergarten:
J: Where’s Chairs?  Where’s Gigi?  Where’s Daddy?
Me: Chairs and Gigi are at school.  Daddy is at work.
J: They are my best friends.
Me: That’s so nice, Little Guy.
J: Daddy is my best daddy.

Things Joshua exclaimed over on the walk we took down the block to enjoy the 60-degree sunny December day:
·      An inflatable manger scene
·      Presents “for Santa”
·      Many a “Tristmas tree”
·      A dog that had a tail
·      That said dog was “not friendly” because of its tail
·      A newspaper in a pink plastic bag at the foot of someone’s driveway
·      A half-opened garage door that was “not down!” and simultaneously “not up!”

22 December 2016

LG: I want to marry myself!
G: Then you will be very lonely.

24 December 2016

Me: Is Marino your friend?
LG: Yes, he is my friend.
Me: Is Mianna [Marino’s 11 month old sister] your friend too?
LG: No, she is mine baby.  I love her.  But I do not love her flower [headband].

27 December 2016

LG: Oh, Mommy.  You are home.  I don’t want you to go to work next time or the next time.  I want you in mine house.



Tuesday, November 17, 2015

God Have Mercy on Us All

We're so close in time to the Paris attacks, yet I already see Internet memes criticizing people for how they express their sympathies (the essence of some of these memes appears to be "I refuse to join the pray for Paris bandwagon when [this other cause] receives almost no attention" or their more enlightened cousin, "While you may pray for Paris, I will pray not only for Paris but for X").  The Beirut attacks, because of their similarity to the one in Paris, seem especially vulnerable to being trotted out this way, as evidence of the limitations of the compassion that is being extended to the victims in Paris and to their bereaved.

I understand the substance of the critique--that the shock with which we Americans greet the Paris attacks and the attention we offer to those losses is shaped by biases for those who look like or live like we do.  It's certainly true that one of the great tasks of being human is to see beyond those things, to extend our sympathies to those who are different, and that we aren't doing so well on that front.  

And yet something about this discourse just seems wrong to me; it seems the opposite of compassionate to belabor the insufficiency and incompleteness of another person's sympathy rather than seeking to nurture that compassion.  The declaration I'm objecting to (and I want to be clear that I'm not talking about people who sincerely are extending their own sympathy to those grieving in Beirut or elsewhere) often seem to harbor a sense of superiority on the part of the critic, who is so certain that his or her compassion is more virtuous, more wise, than that of the person who only has only expressed sympathy for this one tragedy.  But look: every human life is infinite in value, its loss worth infinite sorrow.  120 Parisians, 45 Lebanese, 3 million small children who will die of hunger this year.  Even imperfect and incomplete compassion is a start, and whose is sufficient, anyway?  

Wednesday, November 04, 2015

Life: It's Harder than You'd Think

Not long ago, my sister forwarded me an article written by a single mother to a child with a rare genetic disorder.  The article provided a look into what it feels like to parent a child with special needs and offered advice about ways to support friends who find themselves in that position.  It was valuable to me since my niece Juliet has an extremely rare genetic disorder (Costello's Syndrome) and my sister lives with all kinds of challenges that I am not otherwise familiar with, but what surprised me most about the article was that I knew the author.

She was a college classmate of mine.  I didn't know her well.  We had some friends in common, none of whom I happen to be in close touch with these days.  So, I hadn't heard that she was now raising a little boy with serious developmental delays on her own.  When I read the article, a memory flashed to the surface--just an image of her picking up a tray from the salad bar in the dining hall.  She wore a red wool coat, I think, and had her hair twisted up with a kind of casual elegance that would suit a romantic heroine.  Her prettiness was sort of legendary--while it's superficial to remember that she was one of the prettiest girls in our class, it's probably one reason that I knew who she was.  Anyway, when I read the article and remembered her, I felt this surge of overwhelming compassion for that lovely young girl, who would work hard in college and head off to a top law school full of promise and ambition and expectation, and who I'm sure never anticipated the particular forms of grief and sorrow she would have to fight through in order to have a life that would be nevertheless full of hard-won joy.

Also, in the last couple of weeks, Sam and I went to two weddings of former students.  At both of them, the brides were radiant, adorned in jewels and bedecked in tastefully splendid satin and lace and tulle.  The grooms were beaming with pride and gratitude and hope.  And as I witnessed the wedding of these souls each to the other, one of the prayers I felt lift from me for them was that they would endure with grace the suffering that is certain to come at them.

Maybe that's a really dark prayer, and not very festive for a celebratory occasion.  But even in my relatively limited experience of marriage (we are 8 years in), I feel like such enduring grace is, indeed, a gift very much worth having.

Before I got married, when I occasionally talked with a dear older friend about one person or another whom I was dating or considering dating, she would say, "Marriage is very long."  I understood what she was saying in a sense--that in addition to the eternal significance of marriage (its effect on the state of one's soul and one's pursuit of God, for example), life itself is long and a partner should be chosen with that in mind.

Still, while I understood marriage to be defined by its permanence, I didn't understand then how the length of it defines so much about the way it is lived out.  I probably had enough sense to realize that I should choose a person of faith and character, someone driven toward God and guided toward righteousness on his own terms (i.e., not as a form of courtship or some kind of mating dance).  And yet, I didn't realize how much of life would involve unexpected suffering and disorienting change, some of which would need to be negotiated very fast without a lot of time for considered, loving discussion.  I should add here that Sam and I have not experienced the worst of suffering; our losses are minor compared to those of others we know.  But even thinking of how to come alongside them in their suffering, or being faced with our own questions, both moral and practical, that had no obvious answer but that needed to be addressed right away--in these things, again and again, I have been humbled to see over and over again that my husband is a better man than I knew and a kinder and wiser person than I am in so many ways.

I think about the people I considered marrying before him, particularly in a case or two where I was so certain that my love for them was enough to sort of help them along, and I feel certain that I narrowly escaped disaster.  My belief in my own abilities in that regard now strikes me as not only foolish, but also full of hubris; how could I save someone else?  And why should I think that someone else would really want me to?  (If he'd wanted to be "saved," he'd already have been, I now think.)  I think I underestimated how hard it would be at times to make decisions and how crucial it would be that my husband and I were independently guided by the same principles and the same hand.

Just before Joshua was born (literally hours before he was born), Sam and I had to make a very big decision together, and we didn't have a lot of time.  It was a situation where a lot was on the line, and I found myself without any instinctive sense of direction, baffled to an almost unprecedented degree.  I now think that that cluelessness was a gift because in its absence, Sam worked through some instincts and feelings and desires and goals of his own, and those brought us into what I now feel certain was the right decision.  In other instances, I've been anxious about something and he comes at the question from a different angle, and it is uniquely comforting because I know that his perspective derives from the same truths that I acknowledge, from a reverence for the same God that I worship.  And at still other times, we've disagreed in most exasperated tones and resented each other's stubbornness and yet I've never had to truly fear even what I believed would be a misguided decision on his part because I've known that on all the foundational things, his footing was as sure as mine, or surer.

Robert Frost has this fantastic poem, "The Trial by Existence." The premise of the poem is that in heaven, all the souls awaken from death, believing they're assembled for their reward, and they discover that God is reading out new lives, and they can volunteer to return to life to live them out.  The bravest souls cry out that they'll take the hardest lives, and then God tells them that the pain of mortality is the absence of knowing that you yourself have chosen this life; the work of valor is to be brave without that comfort.  The poem presents a kind of paradox, because it suggests that bravery means persisting without knowledge of the divine context or foreknowledge of the outcomes of our lives, but the poem itself presents that very knowledge.  And so ultimately, I think the poem points to faith in precisely that which we cannot see, as the key to what makes valor possible.

As a Christian, it strikes me that the hardest part is still the same as what Frost describes: to remember how our lives are divinely situated and ordained.  To live with the knowledge that our ultimate future is secured, even if we don't know what our more immediate prospects hold.  And so what I'd say to my younger self is this, if only the giving away of the ending wouldn't circumvent the very work needed to get there: Your life is going to be harder than you think, your losses potentially greater, your personal resources more stretched, your character more vulnerable, your experiences more humbling.  Don't even think about binding yourself to someone broken; you'll need more from your husband than you could ever guess.  And he's out there, with the three children that you could only make with him.

Sunday, November 01, 2015

More on Motherhood ("Moron Motherhood"?)

During an extended wait today at MedExpress (one of J's ear tubes has come out, so we're back in the valley of the shadow of the constant ear infection), I dipped into a book I'd started reading a while back, called All Joy and No Fun: The Paradox of Modern Parenting. The book examines why parents invest so much in their children's nurture at this moment in history.  There are a few points in the book I'd quarrel with, like the notion that parents prior to the 19th century weren't emotionally invested in their offspring (a lot of Puritan writing contradicts that point--the Puritans believed their children were sinners for sure, but they were also deeply devoted to them).  And there are some pressures described as universal among middle- and upper-middle-class American parents today that I really can't identify with, such as a burning ambition to have their children become "successful," with success defined in ever more elusive terms (perhaps the benefit of both Sam's and my having grown up in modest circumstances is that we are just so pleased to have made it this far).

But although the book isn't speaking to me on those points, it is helping me think some about why I do reject some of modern parenting.  I've noticed that my children don't do many structured activities compared to their peers.  Both girls take ballet through the school once a week, and they were in a 4-week pottery class after school last month.  I've thought about putting AC into piano lessons, but I hold off.  I do want her to have the opportunity to pursue music.  She seems to have a good ear, and Sam's family is musical--I am not, so I'd love for her to have the gift of the pleasure of musical expression if she wanted it.  But she has a fair amount of homework every day.  It sometimes takes her an hour to complete, partly because she's not very efficient at it, something I have a hard time faulting her for, since she's been in school from 8:30-3:45 and then has just a few minutes' break before having to sit down and do the homework before dinner.  I can't imagine adding piano practice in there too (which is one more reason I wish she didn't have so much homework).  Not adding extra activities is one way that I try to protect the time she has to be a child.

Sometimes I think it's silly to resist activities that are actually enriching, since what does she do during her resulting free time? Well, she asks for the iPad or TV, or she fights with Gillian enough to make one doubt one's decisions regarding the fruitful investment of time.  But those particular behaviors--the really annoying ones like pestering for electronics or fighting with siblings--are the result of boredom, and I can't believe that boredom is all bad.  Boredom, or a lack of external stimulation, presses us to turn inward.  She writes and illustrates little books.  She invents games for herself and her siblings to play.  She and Gillian fight, but they also interact a lot, and a fair amount of that interaction is forming bonds that Sam and I could not synthesize between them even if we tried.  They have sleepovers, and I have no idea what they are talking about while they stay up too late, or what activities have their feet padding quickly across the floor and then hopping back into bed.  And AC is what people call a "high-spirited" child, a nice way of saying she's intense, highly strung, and strong-willed.  A little boredom, I think, is probably good for her.  It takes a lot out of her to participate in structured activities--I noticed that on the days she had the pottery class and came home an hour later from school, she was completely wrung out--just more irritable and less able to go with the flow.  She loved the class, but the extra time being good just wore her out (I wrote on Facebook that once, when I asked her why she didn't behave as well at home as she did in school, she commented, "I don't think I could do both.  Do you want me to just switch?").  

As children, Sam and I both read a lot and spent a fair amount of time playing without direct adult supervision.  We want our kids to have some of that unstructured time, but to be honest, we also still want some of it for ourselves.  Somehow we started a tradition of setting iPads and little snack bowls of cereal by the girls' beds on Saturday mornings.  The original purpose of this activity was to allow us to sleep in if Joshua happened to sleep in, back in the days when he was still waking up in the middle of the night and occasionally sleeping later in the morning.  But now I have to admit that I love it--AC wakes up first, but she knows not to come out of her room until she hears Joshua wake up and me bring him into our room.  Gillian usually wakes up next, and then all three kids are piled in our bed.  Sometimes I doze or read, and it's cozy and sweet.  It's the only day of the week that we don't all have to be up and out the door to various places, and I'm quite loathe to give it up in favor of structured activities.

This habit has all the hallmarks of shame for the modern parent, though.  Particularly electronics.  Even sugary cereals are frequently involved.  There was a regrettable escalation from a simple mix of Cheerios and raisins, to the same plus a few marshmallows for a special surprise once, to all those and then butterscotch chips--how did that happen?  I think it was a holiday and then again became de rigeur for a few weeks until we put a stop to all of it.  Now that the girls are older and don't wake up needing to eat immediately, we've backed off on the snack a bit, but when we do it, it also allows us to have a big family brunch without my having to get out of bed immediately and start baking or scrambling eggs while children appeared to faint with hunger (not quietly) around my feet.  Now that AC can read, she could read to herself, but Gillian isn't to the point yet where she can read to herself happily for any length of time, and I have to admit that Joshua's new ability to work simple activities on the iPad has been a lovely development.  He plays happily while we wake up, get up, get dressed, etc.  I've done all those things without supplying entertainment, and our mornings are much more relaxed and predictable when he's amused instead of getting into everything or otherwise making mischief while I get ready and Sam gets the kids' breakfast. 

And one other thing that I've realized that I believe, that I'm not sure that all mothers believe--at least not the ones in the book I've been reading--is that my wellbeing and Sam's are as important as our kids' and deserve priority in our family life.  I don't mean that we fail to recognize that we should sacrifice for their wellbeing.  But I think the zeitgeist suggests that to be a parent is to sacrifice oneself as much as possible, and that the measure of one's parenting is one's willingness to do so.  I do hope that I am willing to sacrifice myself where I am supposed to, in this life--I know that I am not so willing, in many respects.  But I don't think that the call to absolute self-sacrifice on the altar of one's children is concordant with Christianity--which is perhaps a paradox, since Christianity does call for absolute self-sacrifice in other ways (as Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote before his own death as a martyr, "Wherever Christ calls us, he calls us to die").  I am called to die in that selfishness in me must die.  But I don't think that the current emphasis on parental self-sacrifice is limited to killing off selfishness. I think that it goes further and equates all behavior in one's own interest with selfishness; it suggests that my life and Sam's life exist solely for our children.  But it is true for me as for my children that, in the words of John Henry Newman, "God has created me to do Him some definite service. He has committed some work to me which He has not committed to another."  There are things I need in order to offer my best service to God, even though I feel some cultural pressure to deny those things, or else to fetishize things like massages and pedicures as signs that I "deserve pampering" due to my work as a mother.

But it's not pampering that I need.  It's investment in being a fully realized human being who can serve many people, not only my children.

One of the things I've realized I do really, really need is time for friendships with other women. One evening last fall, I found myself weeping on the couch with Sam over a longing for intimate local friendships.  I'm not sure why the desire was so strong, or why it had gone unnoticed for so long.  I also couldn't really articulate what I wanted from such a friendship.  (Anne Lamott, in a great essay about going on Match.com in late middle age, wrote that ultimately what she wanted was "someone to text all day, and watch TV at night with" . . . that about summed it up for me too.  Someone besides Sam to tell weird stuff to, or watch chick-flicks with.)  It feels like a gift in the truest sense of the word to have found such a friend in the last year.  Someone to tweet me about the bizarre smell that woke her up one night, and for me to message about the hilarious characters who bought our old washing machine.

Also, a few days ago, I was presented with an opportunity for a girls' weekend with a few friends I rarely see.  It felt like I should ask someone permission to go.  Sam?  Of course I'd need to discuss the invitation with him, since he'd be watching the kids and he is not a person with endless free time.  But even after he assented, I still felt like it was self-indulgent to leave my family behind for 3 days.   It's almost as if the mere fact that it will be so fun makes it not a worthy endeavor; if someone were in crisis and I were going to help, I wouldn't feel that way. But extending friendship is also an act of love, and sharing in it is an act of worship--worthy in its own right.  And when I think about the benefits of the weekend, I know that it will be very good for me--fun and restorative and a blessing to all four of us who go.  And I wouldn't think twice about telling any other person to do such a thing, including my husband, whom I've happily sent off to the desert for a week or three at a time, in pursuit of the things that feed his spirit.

(Also, I don't think it's bad for the kids and Sam to live without me for 72 hours.  When a beloved friend had a new baby and the girls were 4 and 2, I took a trip for two days to see her little family, and Sam commented, in words that made me love him even more, "I think it's good for the girls to see all that you do for them" by having me not at home for a little bit.)

Moreover, I think that for our family to organize itself around what is beneficial for our children, without attention to what is beneficial for all of us and what is worthy of all of our time and investment, would be a kind of idolatry.  There's a radicalism to the discourse of contemporary parenting that troubles me, with a devotion to doctrinal purity and a pursuit of an illusory perfection that seems almost religious in nature.  Obviously, I think a great deal about being a parent, but part of my thinking involves how to situate that one part of my being in concord with all the other parts, and it feels as if this is somehow counter to an enormous pressure in our culture.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

The Great Rationalizer

Me: Go put some clothes on for church.
G: Is it going to be hot or cold?
Me: Cold.
*Minutes pass*
*G turns up in old jeans and grey sweatshirt with sparkly heart.*
Me: Don't you want to wear a dress for church?
G: You said it was going to be cold!
Me: You could just wear a warm dress and leggings or tights . . .
G: I want to wear a shirt and pants.  Boys get to wear shirts and pants!
Me: Well, I don't care--you can wear it if you want to. [They play outside during children's church and there's a sandbox--it's pretty casual.]
G, exasperatedly: This heart means it's my "I love church" shirt.