Friday, June 01, 2012

The Uncomfortable Truth

A while back, my husband and I were talking about what to have for dinner. I said that we had what we needed to make tuna patties.

Husband paused and slowly turned to me... "What's a tuna patty?"

"Well, we had them all the time growing up. It's a can of tuna, an egg and crushed up crackers, formed into a patty and fried." 

Husband looked at me like I had said we ate golden fried dog turd. "That's poor people food."


 And that brings me to The Uncomfortable Truth. We. Are. Poor. That's the long and short of it. Talking about money makes people feel squirmy and uncomfortable. There's a certain amount of guilt, or schadenfreude, when it comes to discussing salaries and bills. But I am gonna cut through to the heart of the matter and be transparent, because I am tired of it being a taboo. We just don't have as much money as everyone else. When friends talk about being broke, I chuckle to myself. Broke is relative, huh? See, when someone says, "I'm broke because we just paid for our two week, all inclusive Disney vacation," it's a little different than, "I have $12 in the bank and it has to last for three weeks because the electric bill was outside the scope of our budget this month."

I could wax eloquently for many, many defensive and reactionary paragraphs about why we're poor. See this if you don't believe in my ability to get really defensive. The truth is there are lots of valid reasons why we aren't financially gifted, and lots of things we could probably do to improve our situation. But for now, we're monetarily challenged. And it's cool. Don't feel bad. It's a part of life.

Let's talk truth. I had two of my kids via the wonder that is Medicaid. I have been on WIC (and frankly, could be right now). I keep Ramen Noodles in the house because sometimes, feeding your kids on 20 cents if freaking brilliant. In the past two years, we've had our electricity cut off twice because of the cost to cool our home in the Texas summer. It's fun to choose between air conditioning and groceries. Our credit is shot because we couldn't afford health insurance for a while and we have lots of awesome medical bills (because we are about $57 above the medicaid income cutoff). My husband drives a 1988 Ford F150 with over 200K miles on it that actually belongs to my dad. When we had to buy a minivan to cart around our litter of kids, we saved up to buy a used one so we wouldn't have a car payment. We bought it from a reputable dealer, who assured us it was in great condition. It lasted less then two weeks. We barely got it to a different dealer to use as a trade (we got less than half of what we had payed for it two weeks prior) for a new van that, thanks to our awesome credit, has a crappy loan with a ridiculously high interest rate and, therefore, a ridiculously high monthly payment. We pay more in rent for our house than we've ever paid before. My husband gets to teach in a community that is incredibly affluent, surrounded by other incredibly affluent communities. By the time we found another house, that was cheaper, the gas it would take to commute would offset the cost of lower rent by leaps and bounds. I know that the City won't turn off our water if we are less than 75 days late. I know this because some months we have to choose a bill to NOT pay so that we can have an adequate grocery budget. Our lawn looks like prairie because we can't afford a lawn service (like everyone else on our street) or even a lawn mower. We have to drive 20 minutes to borrow one from my in-laws, so it doesn't get done as often as I'd like. I rely A LOT on hand-me-downs from other people to clothe my kids. I cook and freeze rice, beans, bulk veggies, etc. not only because it's healthy and trendy and Pinterest-y, but because it's cheap.  My kids' extra-curriculars are paid for by the grandparents.  We are always having to grovel for the scholarship so our kids can enjoy things like Vacation Bible School at church (don't get me started on THAT).  Sometimes I go through the house looking for stuff I can sell on craigslist to help make ends meet. That's what my life looks like.

Why am I writing all this down? Because I am not ashamed of it. We're good people who work hard to do what's right by our family. And we struggle. A lot. I think we sometimes have a misconception of what being poor looks like. We think it's only those people who are on medicaid and government assistance. It's only those people who have credit issues or can't pay their bills. Well, Hi. I'm Sarah, and I don't have a lot of money. Sometimes, I have no money. Sometimes, when you invite me out for drinks, I can't go because I can't afford the gas to get there, let alone the drinks. Sometimes, I feed my kids tuna patties. And they're gross. But the truth is, we make it work. We're happy people. We are people that you know. We are your neighbors and your friends. We live in a nice house in a nice town. Poor is everywhere. It's not relegated to the South Side of major cities, or to rural Appalachia. It's in your backyard. And it's totally normal. Well...I'm not totally normal, but that's a different post.

Friday, March 30, 2012

The Demon At Bedtime

Oh, good lord, I need help.

A little over a month ago, we transitioned our two-year-old (33months) to a big girl bed.  She was sharing a room with the baby, but she was being so disruptive that we thought it would be easier if she shared a room with Sissy because she's older, and could set a great example at bedtime.  Well, it has been a month of utter hell.

Peanut will NOT stay in bed.

Not. At. All.

Over the past six weeks, I have tried every possible technique I could find for transitioning a child to a big bed.

We have tried the Super Nanny technique, wherein you never speak to the child, or make eye contact, just put them back in bed and walk out...except she follows me out.  No sooner have I closed the door, then it is open again.  If she doesn't open the door and come out, she just gets up and turns the light on and gets out toys.  Since she is sharing a room with her sister, it is majorly disruptive, and sometimes Sissy will be in tears because she's tired and Peanut will not go to sleep.  We just kept not talking and putting her back in bed, and she just keeps right on coming out.  It goes on for HOOOOUUUURS.

We tried Ferber.  I have spent hours sitting on the floor outside her bedroom door trying to wait her out.  Last night, I was there for almost two hours, hadn't heard a peep, got up, went downstairs...and there she was, right behind me.  Tonight was much the same, but instead of following my husband downstairs, she went into the baby's room and turned the light on, waking her up.  The Ferber method seems a battle of wills between who can sit quietly the longest.  So far, she wins.

Because Peanut is little, she still takes an afternoon nap.  I thought maybe it was keeping her from being sleepy at night, so I tried eliminating it.  First, she's a perfect little shit without a nap.  A screaming, tantrum throwing tyrant, to be exact.  And inevitably, she'd just go downstairs and sneak into my bedroom and fall asleep on my bed at about  o'clock PM, thus making bedtime an even more distant dream.  So i just cut her nap back.  I let her get good and cranky and then, after lunch, I let her sleep for about 45 minutes and then get her up.  But, hey, guess what?  It didn't work.  At all.  She's just as much awake, right now, at 10:30 at night, as she was with a two hour nap, or no nap at all.

I have tried various bedtime routines, bath before bed, no bath before bed.  Reading books before bed, not reading books.  Lullabies, different pj's, raising the thermostat, lowering the thermostat... I still can't find the sweet spot for a sleepy Peanut.

And because I am not perfect, I will also admit I have tried other Awesome Mom methods like screaming, bribing, cajoling, begging, pulling my hair out, and...yes, spanking.  All to no avail.  I cannot, for the life of me, get this child to sleep.  Not in a crib, not in a bed.  We have changed the bedtime routine.  We have tried putting her to bed at the same time as sissy, and we've tried putting her to bed hours before.  None of it matters.  Tonight, Sissy is actually sleeping in Bubba's room because she has an early soccer game and she needs a good night's sleep!!  Also, I was curious if she would do better in a room on her own.  I guess, if worst came to worst, we could rearrange the whole upstairs again and put her in her own room so at least she isn't disrupting everyone else, but it seem she's going to do that anyway.  God forbid I have to pee while she's still up, because she will hotfoot it as fast as possible into all the other rooms, turning lights on and and waking up everyone else.

So, I need help.  I need the demon to sleep.  How do I get that precious, sweet, smart, adorable, angelic DEMON to GO TO BED?!?!?!   Please, PLEASE, fill my comments with your wonderful mommy suggestions.  I need them.  My sanity is rapidly waning.  And I'm tired.  I want to go to bed!  

Monday, February 20, 2012

The Homeschool Thing...

When we made the decision to homeschool Sissy, Luke wrote a great blog about it.  When we pulled Bubba out of school after only two months of Kinder, I doubt anyone was surprised.  Over the past few weeks, I have been inundated with reminders of why I have made this choice, but I admit, I am reticent to talk about it.  

When you homeschool your kids, there are some pretty typical responses.  First, everyone assumes you must be a religious nut.  Well, I am.  But I am a religious nut of the "Christian Left, I Have a Degree in Religion" variety.  Not the, "Public Schools are Havens of the Godless" variety.  I wear holey jeans and black t-shirts, not ankle length denim skirts and Winnie the Pooh sweatshirts.  I'm a little more black leather boots and a little less Keds, over here.  So, if I am going to talk about homeschool, I first and foremost have to dispel any notions that the decision was of a religious nature.

Second, apparently deciding to homeschool my kids means I think everyone should.  Understand, I don't really give a crap what you do with your kids.  Unless you're starting up a new Jonestown and want your kids to drink the Koolaid, your choices for raising your kids are your own.  Also, my husband is a public school teacher, so please, for the love of GOD, keep sending your kids to school.  It pays my rent.  

Finally, when I talk about why we chose to pull Sissy out of school, and it has to do with her intelligence, I am not implying, in any way, that your kids are dumb.  I do not believe that the public schools are a place where stupid kids go to die a slow, educationless death.  So, if I am talking to you about why public schools didn't work for us, please don't get defensive and start telling me that your kid is fine and they do quite well in this system...blah, blah, blah.  Please see above.  I don't really give a crap about your kid. 

I say this in all love and respect, because, honestly, I don't have to raise your kids or live in your house, or make your choices.  Your kid loves public school?  Great.  You think it's socially necessary for kids to be surrounded by their peers all day?  Good.  You think my kid will only ever learn to cope with her anxiety by putting her back into public schools?  Stop talking.  Because now you're talking about MY kid.  See how that works?

Now, with all that out of the way... Let's talk about why I homeschool.  This is Sissy.

She looks like Dakota Fanning.

She is also wicked, wicked smart.  I don't mean that in a "I'm her mom and so I think she's special" kind of way.  I mean she's smarter than me.  She may not have my life experience, but I guarantee her IQ is higher than mine.  She retains information in a way that is, frankly, freaky.  She also learns like a sponge.  Things just...make sense to her.  If they don't, she asks pertinent questions and there's no looking back.  She turned seven last September, and she's doing multi-digit multiplication, has read almost every book Roald Dahl ever wrote, can tell you about the root system of vascular plants, and spent an evening last week discussing with me why Muslim women wear the hijab.  She finished that conversation by saying, "I don't think that women ought to be treated differently than men, but I know we need to respect everyone's religious choices and freedoms."  For real.  She said that.  If she went to public school, she'd be in first grade.

We sent her to Kindergarten, with some reservations.  I knew she was too smart for her own good, but I didn't know what was in store.  

Sissy has a diagnosed anxiety disorder.  Midway through Kindergarten at our local PS, I was getting calls from the school nurse weekly, sometimes daily, because Sis was vomiting and complaining of chest pains.  She was also getting bullied.  In PE and at recess, a group of boys would target her and throw dodge balls at her.  And she was six and this was Kindergarten.  Wasn't I anxious to see what fresh hell awaited us in, say, middle school?  In a meeting with the principal and the school psychologist, the principal, in reference to the ring leader of the bully boys, said, "Oh, he doesn't mean any harm.  He's just all boy." It wasn't cool.

Academically, her teacher was doing all she could.  She was trying to differentiate Sis's curriculum, but I know her plate was full with the nineteen other kids who also needed and deserved her attention.  The fact that my girl was ahead wasn't a priority.  We were relieved and excited when the GT testing was finally administered.  The test was a three part process.  ITBS, CoGAT and a Creative Product Assessment.  Sissy got a 99% on her ITBS (that's nigh on perfect, as that means she scored better than 99% of kids taking the test).  The teacher who administered the test told me (although she wasn't supposed to), that Sis scored higher on the CoGAT and the creative portion than any child she had ever tested.  And the reward?  One hour of GT, once a week.  

Really?!  REALLY?!

And now I am going to say some things that will probably not sit well with everyone and cause controversy, and are the reason why I often don't talk about why my kids aren't in the public schools.  Thanks to IDEA, if a child has serious emotional disturbance, learning disabilities, mental retardation, traumatic brain injury, autism, vision and hearing impairments, physical disabilities, or other health impairments schools are required to provide special education programming, make accommodations, etc.  As the daughter of a Special Education teacher, I am glad these provisions are in place, and I actually think they need to be better enforced.  However, as you can see, there are no special accommodations for children who are performing above average.  Technically, the Gifted and Talented programs for most schools fall under special services/special education, but they are not privy to the same enforcement as traditional special education.  Imagine, if you would that you have a child with disabilities (maybe you do, so imagination is not required), and your child was evaluated by his school and were decidedly "different" (in learning style, needs, etc.) from the average student.  Now imagine that the school told you that for one hour, once a week, those needs would be accommodated, but the rest of the time, your child would be in the classroom with everyone else, and if the teacher "could," they would make some differentiated curriculum.  Because that was my option. (I know that there is a lot of push for mainstreaming SpEd students, and I think that works well in some situations.)  But imagine if your child was mainstreamed because there was NO OTHER real course of action.  Sis would be mainstreamed because the schools do not recognize her as SpEd, despite her actual educational needs.  Children (or adults) with incredibly high IQ's do not learn on the same level as we Average Joes.  She is not a linear thinker.  Where most/a lot of people must be encouraged to think "outside the box," Sissy has to be directed to the inside.  GT IS SPECIAL EDUCATION!  At least, it should be.  

So let's say that we embraced GT as SpEd and created classrooms specifically for advanced learners.  It wouldn't work.  You know why?  Because that would mean one thing:  Some kids are better at the school thing than others.  And we don't ever want to admit that not everyone is equally smart, equally talented, equally awesome in every single, everloving way.  And that's some bullshit.  Yes, some kids are smarter.  That's all there is to it.  And I am sorry if that gets everybody's molly-coddling panties in a wad, but I am one of those moms.  I don't think everyone should get a trophy.  I think it's okay to grade in red ink.  I think it's okay to say, "That's not really your strength." instead of "Aren't you good at everything!"  I correct my kids' grammar and vocabulary.  And I am sorry about this, but for some of you reading this?  My kid is smarter than your kid, and she deserves the chance to exercise that talent, just the same as your kid has the right to kick her ass at soccer (she's not so good at that).  On the Progress Reports the school district sends home for Kinder students, there are only two categories:  Needs Improvement and At or Above Average.  See that?  There is no actual category for Above Average.  Like we can't say out loud that a child is actually excelling at something.  Ummm...this makes me angry.  Because anger is a natural response to that which we do not understand.  

Which leads me back to the point...

On Sissy's mid-year Progress Report, she had two "Needs Improvements."  One of the categories she needed to improve was something like "Recognizes the Properties of Water."  First of all, what properties of water should a kindergartner know, aside from maybe "It's Wet."?  And what about that was my kid not understanding.  So, I asked her teacher about it... Maybe I needed to work harder to show Sissy that water is wet.  And you know what I found out?  In so many words, the teacher told me that they weren't encouraged to give perfect progress reports.  "It's believed that there always need to be areas for improvement."  Okay.  I will give.  I agree that there are always ways in which our kids need to be challenged and improving.  But just  saying, without exception, that a child can't be "At or Above Average" in all areas is stupid.  If a child is average, then they can strive to be above average... oh wait, above average isn't an option.  

Now, I have my own theories about why it isn't an option to be above average.  And a lot of them have to do with improving grade level test scores, but they've led me to believe it is "in my child's best interest" that she not advance.  At every turn while we were working with the counselors, psychologists, principals, etc. we were told that "socially" it is never a good idea to have a child skip a grade.  Apparently, if your child gets too far ahead (and this includes differentiated classroom curriculum), it will cause social issues for them.  This has a very "hide your smarts" sort of ring to it.  People are uncomfortable with people who are smarter than them, and if your kid is too smart, and working ahead, it will make them "different" and it will be harder to socialize.  Once again, I want to compare this to a SpEd student.  Can you imagine if the school told you that if you acknowledge your child has Autism, it will cause problems, and they will be even more socially isolated.  let's just continue to let them exist in this classroom, doing what everyone else is doing, and then kids will like them more.  OR, since your Autistic child doesn't have the same social skills as other kids in fourth grade, we are going to put him back in Kindergarten until he learns basic social skills.  Ummm, no.  That would never work.  Because primarily, our schools should be about academics, and not socialization.  See, my kids are homeschooled...and right now?  They are outside SOCIALIZING (quite well, I might add), with about a dozen other kids on our street.  Because school is not etiquette class.  Yes, we need to learn to share and wait our turn and play well with others, but when that starts trumping math and science and reading, there's a problem.

BUT, I would be willing to put H back in the PS if she could go into a grade level appropriate for her skill level (and if they would/could make accommodations for her unique learning style), but it's almost impossible to skip her ahead.  In order to move ahead, we have the option to let Sis take Credit By Examination.  These are tests created by UT and/or Texas Tech to determine if children have mastered the necessary material to move on.  These tests are a crock.  Wanna know why?  First, they must be passed with at least a 90%.  Imagine, if your child could only move on, in any grade, if they had straight A's.  because that's what this is.  A 90% or better in every content area to skip a grade.  So, if I wanted Sis to go to third grade next year, she would have to prove that she is already smarter than 90% of the other kids in that grade level.  Awesome (and not helpful).  Second reason these tests are the poopoo?  The "online study guide" is really just a rewriting of the Texas State Standards (which are generic me...I had to try and write homsechool curriculum based on that nonsense).  After the generic nonsense, they offer 3 or 4 sample questions.  I would like to show you some examples of these sample questions:

Second Grade Social Science Question:

You just had an old tree die in your yard. Since trees are a renewable natural resource, 
what should you do?
A Write a story about what happened
B Ask for a new pet to replace the tree
C Build a chair out of the tree’s wood
D Plant a new tree to replace the old on

Second Grade Math Question
 What is the name of the shape below?

a. Cube
b. Cylinder
c. Sphere
d. Rectangular prism

Second Grade Language Arts Question:

What do you need to add to make the word church mean more than one?

A ing
B es
C s
D e at a time here.  I could be totally wrong, but I am pretty sure if I walked into just about ANY second grade classroom in the state of Texas and asked them about "renewable resources", they would all stare at me in confusion.  I am also pretty sure that if I took the picture of that geometric shape into most EIGHTH grade classrooms, they couldn't identify the RECTANGULAR PRISM (because that was the answer)!  And finally, could they have found a more convoluted way to pose that final question?  I had to read it twice.  Why doesn't it say "What is the plural form of church?" or 'What would you add to the word church to make it plural?"  
The test is designed for my kid to fail.
Lastly, despite this test being written and administered by major universities in Texas, our district requires it be administered here, by one of their test facilitators.  And that feels shady to me.  I would much rather have a neutral, third party facilitator give the test, rather than the district who stands to lose/gain based on my child's performance. 

So to test my kid into a higher grade seems almost impossible, but even if she could pass that shady, effed up test, a "district official" must recommend her for advancement.  And this district doesn't like kids to advance...because of "social" reasons (read, test scores).  

So... My kiddo didn't return to the public schools, and probably won't.  She came home to work with me.  And we have great fun.  Bubba started K this last fall, and we really thought maybe it would work for him.  But too many days he came home stating he was bored and "didn't learn anything" today.  He's reading chapter books, but his school work was matching a picture of a firetruck to a picture of a fireman.  My two-year-old can do that.  And I am not trying to be crappy, but that just wasn't good enough.  So, he's home now, too.  

We have a tremendous amount of fun.  Honestly?  Some days we do nothing at all.  Because some times kids are cranky and out of sorts, and battling them to do math isn't worth it.  So we watch Jeff Corwin. Some days we just paint.  Last week, we dedicated two whole days to the study of nouns in all their forms.  My six and seven year-olds can tell you about irregular pronouns.  Today, we planted a kitchen garden with herbs and tomatoes and strawberries.  We talked about leaves and stems and crap like that.  We do what we want, on their level.  One day at a time.  And they play soccer and baseball and go to church and play outside, and all that "socialization"  which prevented them from moving forward in public school just doesn't seem to be an issue. 

And that's why I homeschool.  And I just wanted to put that out there because people always seem to have a lot of questions.  I stayed silent for a while because it's a touchy subject, and is a pretty heavy and personal decision.  But, I thought I'd venture to share my side.  Please, be kind.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Your Daily Affirmation

It recently occurred to me that I needed a sensible set of daily affirmations, tailored to my life.  But most daily affirmations are stupid.  They're all about how to be successful and not giving up or other such nonsense.  I needed something personal.  Specifics.  Mom affirmations.  Wife affirmations.  Woman affirmations.

So I have began compiling a list of things I think every woman needs to hear, from time to time, or every day.  I imagine them being read with gentle authority.  So, maybe you could hear them as read by Sam Waterston.

Sam says:

When you eat Nutella straight from the jar, with your finger, not even bothering with a spoon, that's sexy.

Perky breasts are intimidating, not attractive.

You are bringing the female mustache to the forefront of high fashion.

Bloated is the new black.

Yoga pants are sexier than skinny jeans, hands down.  And paired with that old ratty t-shirt?  Hell, yeah.

You make a minivan look hip.

Peeing with the door open is just a sign that you are secure with your own body.

Your stretch marks remind me of a topographical map.  Have I mentioned how hot geography is?

The smell of poop and baby vomit can create a truly feral response in any man.  That's pheromones, baby.

Seeing boxes of tampons in the bathroom just remind me that you're a woman.  I like women.

Everyone appreciates you.  And if they don't?  I will cut them.

You didn't comb your hair today?  I didn't notice.  

You're much smarter than you were at eighteen, and just as hot.  No.  Hotter.  

I love to eat macaroni and cheese with cut up hotdogs.  If you made it, it's good.

If you need a nap today, you should take it.  You work hard.

The skin on your arm where the triceps would normally be?  I like it.  Muscular women don't seem as luscious as you.  

You look great in that tank top.  No one is staring at your matronly arms. 

When you wear shorts, no one notices your cellulite and spider veins because the beauty of your face, and your inner light, blinds them.

Don't tell anyone, but I think you're a better mom than all the others.

Body odor in normal.  Yours smells like roses and rainbows.

I like my laundry a little wrinkled.  It's bohemian chic.

The way you've pulled your toenail off instead of clipping it?  And the six month old chipped polish on it?  I like that.  Who needs a high maintenance woman?

Those grey hairs make you look smart, and dignified, like a cougar with class.

When you lose your shit, and yell at the kids, and little bits of spittle come out of your mouth and your eyes get all crazy?  It reminds me that I love a fiery woman.

If a supermodel hit on your husband, you could kick her ass.  Because she'd be too hungry to fight back.

I intend to continue compiling this list.  Updating weekly with new affirmations.  Please, feel free to suggest your own.  But for now, I think we can all say:
Thanks, Sam.  Thanks a lot.  I needed to hear that.

Friday, December 02, 2011

Christ in Christmas

So, this is an awesome hot topic right now.  I've posted on the Facebook about it (twice), Facebook argued about it, discussed it in person with a handful of folks, read numerous blogs (including the Lovely Leia found here and THIS ONE) and finally decided I would just sit and write a spell about it.

So this all begins with an email I received not long ago stating that I should boycott businesses that didn't have a Merry Christmas sign, but opted for the "PC" Happy Holidays.  Then I have just been inundated with Facebook statuses demanding that Christians take back THEIR HOLIDAY.  Many of these posts use the holy name of Christ over and over, all the while giving off a rather angry and entitled vibe.

So let's talk about all this anger regarding taking Christ out of Christmas.  The sentiment gives me pause to think...twice.  First, Christ's last commandment was to go and make disciples.  I really wonder how many disciples we are making, how many people's hearts and minds are changing, when Christians YELL about "THEIR" holiday and berate others for NOT believing like they do.  I'm usually of the opinion that Christ's message should be like the man, loving and compassionate, and usually only called to indignation by the exploitation of others.  Pretty sure saying Happy Holidays isn't exploiting anyone.  So in the effort to keep Christ in Christmas, Christians are behaving in a way that is antithetical to the very faith they are proclaiming.  As I said earlier, I have many friends who are not of the Christian persuasion, or even the religious persuasion in any way.  I do not know a single one of them that feels insulted by a cheery "Merry Christmas!"  However, I know that most all of them are offended by yelling, berating, insulting, entitled Christians acting as if they are somehow being robbed of the their right to believe in Jesus at Christmas time.  So, I ask:  If it is our goal as Christians to live faithfully by the commands of Christ, and it is important to "keep Christ in Christmas," then why are we behaving in ways that aren't Christlike?

Second, and more laughably, why the hell is everyone getting MAD about this?  Are there a bunch of Christians out there somehow UNABLE to celebrate this holiday because someone, somewhere said Happy Holidays?  Are they getting up Christmas morning, looking at their gifts and saying, "Ohhh...EFF this!  I can't even celebrate now, knowing that the coffee shop down the street had a HAPPY HOLIDAYS sign out front.  This day is RUINED!"  I mean, if you work in an office, and there are lots of people of varying faiths there, and you put a picture of the Baby Jesus on your desk, and someone says, "Hey, take that down" is Christmas no longer about Jesus?  Do you find yourself forgetting during the hustle bustle of these times that it is, indeed, the season of the Christ Mass because Season's Greetings is posted in Starbucks?  Are we so poor in spirit that we have given the power to "remove" Christ from anything, anywhere?  Because...well...that's kinda nuts.

Sometimes, I am concerned that messages such as this don't really have anything to do with Jesus at all.  It's about our need to be RIGHT.  My faith, my salvation, my savior, MY HOLIDAY.  It's all about ME. ME. ME.  I'm right.  I celebrate Christmas, the season of perpetual hope, remembering the birth of the Prince of Peace, who came to bring good will to ALL MEN...AND IF YOU DON'T AGREE YOU CAN EFFING BITE ME, SUCKAHS!!!!!!!

Well, I don't think that message really SCREAMS Christ.  I don't know if you can  SCREAM Christ.

 What it does scream is entitlement.  Christians are having a hard time with this, it seems.  We have a church culture that is teaching about YOUR walk with Jesus, YOUR sin, YOUR salvation, YOUR savior.  Thus, when we talk about Christ, he is not THE Lord, he is MY Lord.  He is not the savior of ALL men, he is MY savior.  MINE!!!  ALL MINE!!!  This is foolishness.  We cannot allow our faith be sold out to a culture of narcissists.  Christ's birth, life and death were for all.  Even for those who don't care to accept it, it is there, just the same.  The role of the Christian is to be a living embodiment of the acceptance of that.  We don't need Christ to be in Christmas because we don't need Christmas.  I'm pretty sure you can celebrate the birth of Jesus just any old day of the week.  You are not being robbed of anything, ever.  Instead of thinking about MY HOLIDAY, this may actually be a great time of year to think about others.  If we gave ourselves the grace to accept Grace, live in it, not be so concerned with the Almighty ME, and a little more concerned with the Almighty, we could positively BLEED that grace to others.  We could be so filled with the love of God, that others would want to...hug us...stand uncomfortably close...smell our hair...whatever it would take to be a part of the JOY of this season.  And then instead of demanding CHRIST be GIVEN to US at CHRISTMAS, we could BRING CHRIST to OTHERS ALL THE TIME.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Why I'm an Episcopalian (Almost)

Today, I was reading a friend's blog, which can be found here:

And I started to write a comment.  That comment became lengthy, and I decided instead to write a blog.  I have a blog, after all, and sometimes it might be nice to use it. 

I am trying very hard, at this point in my life, to have grace and understanding for my upbringing, that denomination and those with whom I associate those things.  So what I say about the "evangelical" church is not meant to sound contentious.  Rather, I am processing through my own beliefs and how they figure against the backdrop of a conservative childhood church experience.  Consider this a disclaimer, of sorts.

I was raised Southern Baptist.  In my late teens/early twenties, I became almost entirely disaffected from the church (like so many before me...oh the angst of blaming church for stuff).  In the last few years before I stopped attending church, I always felt out of step with my faith.  There were practices, beliefs, theologies, dogmatic issues, etc. that just never sat well with me.  I attempted to find some sense of understanding or latitude about how I was feeling, but it seemed I always met resistance.  For many, in the more "fundamental" churches, if you don't do it "this way," you are wrong.  Not just personally wrong, but wrong with God.  You should probably reevaluate your "walk" and how you feel, or possibly even reevaluate your salvation.  After a while, this sense of wrongness became all too much to take, and I ended up leaving church all together...for a while.  After Luke and I had been married for about six years, and had two kids, we both felt an undeniable compulsion to find church again.  It was one of those bizarre circumstances where we came to the decision almost simultaneously, and both felt embarrassed bringing it up. After all, cool kids don't go to church or like Jesus or have faith.  Being disaffected was sooooo much hipper.

But we got over it.  We went back to church.  God landed us at a UCC church, which is a great place to start if you have been outside the realm of faith and want a comfy place to ease back in.  The UCC loves everyone.  Our pastor called us "Universalists Considering Christ."  We loved him, loved the church, loved the practice.  "The practice?" you say.  Ahhh, yes.  The practice.  Our little UCC Church was the First Congregationalist Church, as well.  Thus I was introduced to liturgy.  Until we joined this church, I was unfamiliar with anything resembling liturgy.  We took Communion, not the Lord's Supper...and we did it every week.  We followed a calendar...a Liturgical Calendar!  I didn't even know such a thing existed, and I'm a PK.  And it was nice.  Then we moved to Texas.

Texas is a Mecca for Baptists and other evangelicals.  I live within minutes of Chuck Swindoll's Church, the ridiculousness that is Prestonwood, and many other mega-churches, pseudo-mega-churches, Bible Churches, Church of the Big Screen, Church of the Jugglers and Fire Breathers, Church of Smoke and Mirrors...  you get my drift... But the closest UCC church was about a 45 minute drive on a Sunday morning, and that just didn't work for us.  If you have small children, as I do, church must be convenient.  Don't worry, Jesus totally understands this.  Jesus knows and understands that if I want to, truly want to go to church, it needs to be conveniently located.  I need to be able to get my kiddos home and fed after services.  I can't afford to eat out every week!  And I can't afford (mentally) for the kids to sleep for 15 minutes in the car on the way home, and consider themselves rested for the day.  Five, ten minutes max is my allotted commute time for church.  So we needed to find something closer.  We looked around in Frisco, asked some learned friends and decided to go to our local Episcopal Church.  Episcopalians... they seem relatively unoffensive, right?

I knew nothing of the Episcopal faith when we began attending St. Philip's.  What I do know is that everything that had felt wrong ten years ago, suddenly felt right.  It was as if it was just plain meant to be. 

I wish, that back in the day, when I was feeling so lost at sea about my faith, someone had had the wherewithal to tell me to take my time, look around and find the church for me.  However, as my very clever priest at St. Philip's told me... It takes a very magnanimous person to do such a thing.  I have come to realize that not one of the people who made me feel discouraged did so because they wanted to cause me harm.  They did so because they genuinely believed they were right.  That's fine.  That's their faith, their conviction.  They don't have to answer to me for that...but they do gotta answer to Jesus.  And as my very clever priest also said, "You talk a lot about "them"... Jesus died for "them," too, you know."   Consider this another disclaimer. 

Anyway, we loved the Episcopal Church.  We loooooooovvvve the tradition and the liturgy.  This morning, I was standing in the hallway at church chatting with some ladies (who I also looooooovvve) about the "great cloud of witnesses."  We were talking about being connected to other Christians who have come before, and to all those who will come after us.  We are connected in our worship and in our prayer.  This is not just Episcopalians, but all Christians.  I said that this is what draws me to the Episcopal faith, though.  On Maundy Thursday, all over the world, Episcopalians sat through a service almost identical to mine.  We all watched in darkness as our altars were stripped bare, as the last candle was extinguished, as we prayed, just as Christ did in Gethsemane... There's something monstrously huge about knowing that not only were people all over the world doing that. very. thing., but people for centuries have been doing that. very. thing. to commemorate Maundy Thursday.  That's beautiful.  That's SOOOOOO much bigger than just me liking liturgy.  My church makes me feel connected to the great cloud of witnesses.  I am a part of the before and the after of this Christian Life I try to live.  I see and know that the Body of Christ is larger than the Episcopal Church, it is the catholic (small C) church.  The unified Church.  We pray for, and profess to believe in, that "unified church" every week in our services.  This Episcopal way of doing things, though, is how I find my best connection to that.  And I just love it.  We spend a WEEK celebrating Easter.  I heard someone this week call it our Super Bowl of Jesus.  I like that.  I know that we can celebrate the resurrection any old day, and that we should.  But I have found tremendous comfort and insight and peace and reverence and goodness in spending a whole week (not to mention the preceding Lenten season) just focusing on the last days of Christ's life, and his phenomenal resurrection.  Hallelujah, He is Risen, indeed.  My parents came and spent these last four days with us, their first Liturgical Easter experience.  My dad said, "That's a LOT of Easter." and then he thanked me for having them come and do it.  He loved it.  I loved that he loved it.  There's a lot to be said for tradition and liturgy and Lent and Holy Week and Easter. 

The friend whose blog I read that prompted me to write this, said the following:

Some people are “traditionalists,” for example--and these are the people who really LOVE getting up and fighting with their kids about putting on fancy dresses and clip-on ties so they can sit in the pews of a pretty building and sing the songs of their childhood during a service that revolves around words like “Eucharist” and “liturgy.” 

Okay... I'll take the hit.  She also mentioned the irony of Easter ham,which I secretly hope she stole from my Facebook status about my Jesus Ham and how Christians eat ham to exercise our non-Jewishness, but she is clever and probably came to that on her own.  This morning, my kids wore fancy dresses and clip-on ties.  Actually, my son loves a clip-on tie lots of days.  I don't fight with them about it.  My H would wear a fancy dress to school every day, but we own a limited number of fancy dresses.  Usually, we wear regular business casual to church...except me.  I work with the kiddos teaching Sunday School, so I typically wear jeans and a t-shirt that was provided by the church, and my sneakers.  We have pews, and I think our sanctuary is pretty in its own right, but we are far from ostentatious.  I'm not certain we even have stained glass.  What I do know, is that right above the altar is this HUGE window that opens to the sky behind it, and in the center of that window is a really simple cross.  So at every service, we have the grandeur of God's creation showing through with  a cross in the middle...and I think that symbolism is pretty perfect.  Here is a nice pic of it that I stole from FB:

As far as singing the songs of my childhood?  Well, I was raised on the traditional Baptist hymns, which very few churches sing at all anymore, having traded them for the chanted mantras that are praise and worship music.  By the time I hit high school, almost all churches had thrown Fanny Crosby by the wayside and opted for Chris Tomlin.  I appreciate some good old fashioned hymns, but we actually use a mix of both in my church.  And as far as "Eucharist" goes?  Well, Eucharist is also referred to as The Great Thanksgiving because it is from the Greek, eucharistia, which means thanksgiving...and well?  Maybe we could all do with a little more of that in our services.  We just use it to refer to the time when we take the sacrament of communion... For what could we as Christians be more thankful for than the body and blood of Jesus Christ?  It is just a little time where we can give it back.  Liturgy?  It's a composite of some Greek words meaning public duty/service.  And well...that's what it is.  It is a public service.  And I like the deeper idea of that, too.  That church is a public service.  I think Jesus would like that idea, as well. 

All that to say, I think I have found that I am a traditionalist.  God has moved us to a place where we fit.  It is where I hear God the loudest.  I like it.  I found that in the Episcopal Church.  But, I also love that the traditionalist nature of the Episcopal Church isn't exactly inflexible.  We go to a church that's in the middle...we aren't "high church," as there is no incense burning, and the only hat I've seen was on the Bishop, and we aren't low church, as our priests do wear vestments.  But my favorite thing about the Episcopal Church is found in small moments of openness and understanding.  I never feel "wrong" there, because we seem to be okay with it if you don't agree.  I happen to know of one issue in particular with which I am at pretty direct odds with my priest.  He knows it, we've talked about it...and yet, I still feel welcome and not once did I think he questioned my salvation over it!  Every week, we have a portion of our service known as Prayers of the People.  In our little "follow along" bulletin, just above the Prayers, it says, "You may kneel, stand or sit for the Prayers of the People."  Before we take communion, the presiding priest will say, "All baptized Christians are welcome... You can take the can dip the can guide the chalice to your lips...or if that doesn't describe where you are you can..."  I heart this attitude of, "Please feel free to worship as you feel led."  That's so nice and refreshing.  We are traditionalists who don't mind if you need to buck tradition to get your needs met.  We can roll with that. 

So, that's why I'm an Episcopalian... Almost.  In two weeks, I will have the honor of kneeling before our Bishop and becoming a fully confirmed Episcopalian.  And with God's help, I will continue to worship and serve and love him.  Every day, not just on Easter. Every week, not just during Holy Week.  Every season, not just during Lent.  All the time.  But I will continue to love those special times during the calendar year when I am especially reminded to stop and remember that Jesus was wholly human, and wholly God and lived a life worthy of emulating, and died a death that was with purpose, and was resurrected so that we might be also.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

The Doctrine of Separate Spheres

Doctrine of separate spheres is an old common law principle that wives are limited to the personal or domestic sphere and that husbands had control of the public sphere. According to this early-19th-century doctrine, the woman’s place is in the home, and the man’s place is in the workforce earning money for the household and providing for his family.

I am two women.  Lately, these women have been at direct odds with one another, and the ensuing battle is leaving me ragged and tired and a little broken.  I think you would be very interested in reading about these two women (really, you's okay to admit it), so I will tell you their life stories:

Woman One has four beautiful children.  She stays home with them.  She cooks their meals and does their laundry (Wait, did I say four children?  She has five, if when referring to cooking and laundry, you include her husband).  She is a member of the PTA.  Her kids are involved in activities to which she drives them.  She takes her children to church, and while there, teaches Sunday School to other people's children.  Woman One is a Mom.  A big, giant Mom.  Mom, mom, mom, mom, mom.  All day long.  Mom.

Woman Two graduated Summa Cum Laude (that means 4.0, if you are keeping track) from a nice university with a major in Religious Studies, a minor in Social Science and an academic focus on Spiritual Development.  She is funky and weird and has tattoos and spiky hair.  She knows that God is calling her to some pretty cool stuff right now, and she is excited about doing it.  She reads a lot, and considers herself to be fairly cerebral.  As of now, Woman Two desperately misses school and the opportunity to be really immersed in higher level learning about that which she is passionate.  Woman Two is ready to take on the next phase of life, ready and willing to do the things God is calling her to do... And she thinks she could be really good at them.


Put those two women in a boxing ring, and you have me.  I am a woman with a degree in religion teaching Jesus to two-year-olds. 

The issue at hand is stated above.  I have instituted in my own life the Doctrine of Separate Spheres.  At some point, I completely eradicated the hope that I could be both of these women.  Instead, I swing, in giant pendulum style, between the two.  The mom part of me is all mom, and she stays home and takes care of babies and is (really) quite precious. The other part of me is pretty hardcore and passionate about things, and frankly, a lot smarter than Mom Me.  Let me give examples of my life right now:

  • Woman Two is reading a book on Old Testament Theology, she is interrupted by Woman One, who needs to read Mr. Brown Can Moo for the 700th time today to a screaming toddler.
  • Woman One is at church and Woman Two comes out and volunteers for something because she wants to be useful and engaged.  People tell Woman One that she "already has her hands full" and thus Woman Two is disregarded.
  • Woman Two offers up some solid thoughts on something, and people raise an eyebrow because what does Woman One really know about things.  This may, or may not, be accompanied by a smile of condescension.
  • Woman Two cannot attend anything of consequence, volunteer for anything of consequence or serve in any capacity unless Woman One can find a babysitter.
  • Woman Two is frequently judged by proxy as people somehow assume Woman One is a teenage mom because she looks like Woman Two.
  • People treat Woman One like some sort of invalid and/or martyr for choosing to to have a lot of kids which, in turn, makes both women feel marginalized.
  • Woman Two tries to Blog about religion and faith.  Woman One tries to Blog about motherhood.  Subsequently, blog's dashboard is filled with partially completed blogs about both...and neither.
  • Woman Two tries to explain the concept of the Trinity to Woman One's Children.
  • Woman Two argues with Woman One's six-year-old when she says David wrote all the Psalms.

Now, I would like to point out that I do not, in any way, resent motherhood.  I chose motherhood, and I enthusiastically embrace my role in such.  However, I am not only a mother, and at some point, I think I have become pigeonholed.  I am as guilty of this as those around me.  As I said, I created a Doctrine of Separate Spheres within myself.  These two women live almost entirely independent of one another.  One is the man of the Victorian Era principle, and the other the woman, and I really need them to get married.  But I honestly don't know how.  This has been my struggle of late.  I'm engaged in an internal battle of epic proportions because I don't know how to make myself get married to myself.  I need to smash my spheres together into one big crazy sphere, where I can be a Mom who is smart, who is serving her family, and serving God (and please don't give me the "serving your family is serving God" line, because I know that and it really isn't what I mean, and you know what I mean, and shut up.).  I know my life is currently a gigantic lesson in patience and grace, but part of that grace is allowing myself the necessary room to be Woman Two as well as Woman One.  Maybe it is pride, but I want to be known as "that lady that's really great to go to about spiritual stuff" as well as "that lady with all the kids." 

So, I am now dedicating my energy to creating a Doctrine of Venn Diagram Spheres.  See, if my life were a Venn Diagram, I have info for each sphere, but nothing for the overlapping portion in the middle.  I propose to begin filling that space.  I just don't really know how.

Oh, by the way... I don't think men have this problem, but I would welcome commiseration if you do.