Just so you know

All right. I have ideas. I think about stuff. So here is the spot for stuff I'm thinking about and want to be able to share more broadly and possibly promote. Like I have time for this.

Everything is provisional at this point and subject to change in the future - as far as the blog is concerned. In real life some things will remain unchanged.

Also, our children are not really named Lenny and Linus. We are not that cool.

Feel free to share, rant, disagree, but please remember that I'm an actual person who tries to be respectful. I'd love it if you are and do to.

Monday, September 8, 2014

What I Wish I'd Known about Invisible Illness

photo credit: marfis75 via photopin cc

Apparently it's "Invisible Illness Awareness Week."  I think that might be a little ironic.  But I'm too tired to say for sure.  Anyway, I've already written a few times about having chronic illness, but I was thinking today about what I wish I'd known when I first got sick about a decade ago.  Maybe it will help someone else who is just starting on a similar journey.  So here you go:

  1. Not knowing is the worst part.  There are so many unknowns.  Most people start out not knowing what's wrong.  If you're lucky you get a diagnosis that has a treatment protocol and a prognosis.  Or, like me, maybe you get an "exclusionary diagnosis," which means "we ruled all this other stuff out and don't really know what's going on, so we'll call it Chronic Fatigue Syndrome which not only sounds really wimpy but is also something we don't know what to do about."  If you end up with an honest doctor they will actually tell you this.  If you find a compassionate and creative one they may try to help you find ways to deal with the symptoms.  Or not.  
  2. Finding good medical care is important, but can be challenging.  Just about everyone I know with chronic illnesses has at least one story of traumatic experience with the medical system.  "Medically unexplained" illnesses are kind of an insult to the medical system.  Some doctors specialize in them, but they tend to have a few pet diagnoses and treatment plans.  Other doctors view patients who have been to numerous doctors and had many test with suspicion (I've actually been turned away as a patient by a general practitioner's office.)  Having access to quality medical care is something that we need more than every, though, and it's worth working to find it.  Even if there aren't answers for the chronic problems everyone gets acute illnesses from time to time.  I read somewhere that good medical care is a key indicator of quality of life for people with chronic illnesses.  It seems obvious, but...
  3. Life turns upside down, but that doesn't mean I'm crazy.  It feels crazy.  A simple virus leads to mind-numbing, soul sapping fatigue that never, ever goes away.  Tasks that used to be taken for granted become next to impossible.  It's easy to get extremely depressed.  The depression is not the illness, but it compounds some of the symptoms.  Getting psychiatric help doesn't mean admitting that it's "all in your head."
  4. Which reminds me, sometimes people will say things that are hurtful.  Most of the time they don't mean to.  The situation is as upside down to them as it is to the person who is sick.  Plus, our society values activity and competence and independence and lots of other energetic characteristics that most people with chronic illness no longer have.  So trying to rationalize, minimize or solve the situation is kind of a reflex.  But that doesn't make it less painful.  It can be very important to....
  5. Find a supportive community.  Thank goodness for the internet.  Chances are you can find a group of people with exactly the same thyroid condition or digestive issues or asthma or....  It doesn't take the place of relationships with people you can touch and smile at, but it can be a huge relief.  Venting is awesome. 
  6. Planning can be a lifesaver.  Or impossible.  My motto is cliche:  Hope for the best, plan for the worst.  But sometimes making plans is useless because bodies just don't cooperate.  Other times, it's impossible to predict how a course of action will end up and you just have to take a leap.  That's how it was with us and having kids.  It's full of unknowns for everyone, but with chronic illness that's doubly or triply true.
  7. Sometimes the situation improves.  Even though I knew people who'd improved and heard stories of others I never really believed that my health would improve significantly.  I'm not sure if hoping that it would would have made my situation better or worse.  Some people believe that believing you can be healthy is essential, but I have seen improvements that started when I never really believed they would happen.
  8. Even with improvement you will never be exactly the same.  I probably shouldn't say never.  Maybe some people can suffer from a prolonged illness and, on recovering, become exactly the person they were before.  But I think it's probably very rare.  Illness is isolating.  Pain changes the way our brains function.  Losing control makes us think about what we really value in life.  Plus, improvement doesn't necessarily mean "cure."
  9. The "new normal" keeps changing.  Sometimes people get into good routines and are pretty stable.  But in my experience, especially since having kids, change is the one constant.   Remember all those unknowns I started with?  They never really go away.
  10. Kids need to eat every day.  Wait.  That's the wrong blog post.  Gotta fix supper now.
If you've been dealing with chronic illness for a while what have you learned?

Thursday, August 28, 2014

If Babies Ran the Internet

Content on the internet, possibly more than any other form of mass communication is driven by users - right?  I have a laptop, and an internet connection and BAM! I have a blog about... ...whatever my blog is about when I get around to doing posts.

Today it occurred to me that if babies were the ones generating content the internet would be a much different place.  Since my baby is "older" (crawling but not walking) lots of my examples relate to that stage.  I started posting these on Twitter with the hashtag #ifbabiesrantheinternet but the (incredibly small portion of the) Twitterverse that (theoretically) knows I exist is ignoring them, so here they are for my loyal blog readers:

Blog posts and news stories would change to include the following:

  • "Everything You Want to Know about Your Older Sibling's Bedroom (but can't get in to find out)"
  • Tips for avoiding long car trips.  
  • "Hanging out with Daddy and Other True Stories of Surviving in the Midst of Adversity" (Sorry!)
  • "17 Really Good Reasons to Cry (With 2 Foolproof Reasons for those Who Can't Count to 17)"
  • "Tired Parents and Other Myths"  
  • Inspiring stories of resisting sleep training. 
  • Tips for maintaining proper boob access.  
  • "7 Signs it's Time to Drop that Pesky Morning Nap."
  • "Five Scientifically Verified Reasons Why Food on Mommy's Plate Tastes Better."  
  • Ironic lists of stuff moms freak out about. 
  • Advice about strategic times to poop.  
  • Great parodies of adults saying stuff like "did you poop?"
Social media would also change.  There would be:
  • Snarky social media posts about siblings with all their teeth not really being better at biting people.
  • Theories about why adults find "peek-a-boo" so entertaining.  
  • Shocking revelations about objects it that are not pleasant to put in the mouth. 
  •  Instagram pics of tasty snacks found under the kitchen table. 
  •   A lot more videos of people dropping things.
Real life might even change.  For example I'm pretty sure that waterproof cameras would be included in hospital goodie bags.

I'm sure there are plenty more of these.  What have I missed?

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Would You Pray about Buying a Time Share?

nuchylee, via

The minivan has a button for tuning the radio on the steering wheel.  I guess this could come in handy, but mostly I end up bumping it by accident.  Then there's some guy answering a caller's question with the phrase "Catholic birth control."  I hit the button again, hoping that it's in the opposite direction from the first hit and I'll hear NPR playing classical music again.  No.  Now some other guy is explaining why he doesn't recommend time shares.  You pay whether you use them or not.  Maintenance fees go up.  They can be very hard to sell. So don't rush into it, he advises.  Pray about it.  I hit the button again.  NPR.  Relief.

But... of course the little voice from behind me pipes up, "Why'd you change it Mommy?"

I try not to lie to my children.  I can explain (hopefully in developmentally appropriate terms) where babies come from.  I answered truthfully that yes, in some states men can marry other men (but you still can't marry your brother even if you do love him more than anyone).  But in this case I... don't exactly tell the whole truth.

I say, "We don't need to listen to someone talking about time shares.  We are not going to buy a time share."

I didn't feel like I needed to explain that I find this advice to pray about buying a time share irritating.  Because most likely he would again say "Why?" and I'd have to try to explain.  And it's complicated.  I guess.

I mean what does this financial and apparently Christian sage expect to happen when his listener prays?  Will someone miraculously knock on his front door and offer to sit down and map out his income and expenses so that he can see exactly how much money he can afford to spend on vacations each year?  Will he have a feeling of peace about his decision that will cause him to move forward?  Will an obviously "better" opportunity present itself?

I know.  The Bible says to pray about everything.  But if we're doing that then why point out the need to pray about this, particularly?  Just in case he forgot? 

I also know that the Bible promises that if anyone lacks wisdom he should pray for it and God will provide.  But either people are forgetting this promise or it doesn't work quite the way we'd hope because lots of decisions get made - especially regarding finances - that I would not consider to be wise.

But really, it's not bad to pray.  I didn't really change the station because I have a problem with praying.  I changed it because I have a problem with this casual way that we talk about praying.  As if it's.... what... some kind of magic eight ball that will reveal just enough of the future to let us know what to do?  What about common sense?  What about basic principals like spending less than our income?  What about charitable giving? 

If there are moral/spiritual issues involved they have to do with meeting obligations to people who rely on us and thinking about possibly helping people who don't have the basic necessities of life like clean drinking water and basic medical care.  But hey, maybe all those factors have been considered and the listener really does need a few weeks out of the year to rest and relax and maybe a time share would be great.  Maybe praying would help him reflect on all of this.

So I'm probably just being petty.  I'm probably jumping to conclusions about how people who are calling into radio shows aimed at Christians who have questions about their finances act and think.  I'm probably a little bitter that when I was growing up we spent so much time traveling around, visiting dozens of churches, hoping to convince enough people to give us money that we would be able to spend four more years bringing the gospel to an isolated "unreached people group."  While some guy here is sitting in a radio studio telling people to pray about whether they should buy a time share.

Or maybe I'm just frustrated and discouraged by years of pouring out the desires of my heart to God and feeling like it didn't make a difference.  Maybe I just don't know what to do with the fact that when I couldn't stand to pray anymore, when any attempt brought up a well of pain and sadness, when I decided I couldn't expose myself to that any more... that was when I found some measure of peace.  Not the perfect peace that the Bible promises, but a greater peace than I had known when I was hoping and yearning and reaching out. 

Maybe, in spite of a lifetime of teaching on the subject I just don't understand prayer at all.  But I do know that this kind of glib instruction to pray about an issue that might be better handled by careful study and thought rubs me the wrong way.  I think that the Christian community would do well to think about how we talk about these topics in such a public way.  Maybe I'll even figure out how to drive the minivan without hitting that button.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Third Culture Mom at the End of the School Year

photo credit: Lotus Carroll via photopin cc

Being a Missionary Kid (MK) or Third Culture Kid (TCK) is kind of like being a Preacher's Kid (PK).  Long after one stops being a "kid" the experiences and ideas encountered as a child leave a mark.  I'd say, though, that for a TCK the effects are farther reaching and more profound.  (Also MKs can also be PKs.  I'm not a PK but that's another story.) Here's an example of how being an MK still affects me today.

Lenny finished kindergarten a week ago.  It was amazing to me how casually the year ended.  Yes, they had a special school assembly (celebrating his elementary school's 60th "birthday" as chance would have it) and a field day (which was rained out in the afternoon).  He came home with a school t-shirt after the field day (they improvised in the gym).  On the last day of school he brought home a beach ball saying, "I had a ball in kindergarten!"

Lenny was sad to see school end.  He knew that it will start again in the fall but that he will be in a different grade and have a different teacher - across the hall from his old classroom.  He knows that he will be at school all day and eat in the cafeteria.  But he said, "It will just be for the same amount of time."

I didn't understand.  I reminded him about all day school.  "No, the same amount of days.  Then it will be over again."

Ah.  We needed a moment of melancholy to acknowledge the friendships that would be lost and the familiar routines that would change.  I said, "Yes, life it like that.  Every year you will have a new grade and a new teacher and some new friends.  For twelve more years you will start a new grade every fall, finish every spring and after the summer start again. Then, if you go to college there will be lots more changes.  Then when you finish college you will get a job and maybe buy a house and then things will be the same more.  Unless you become a dad and have kids.  Then all the changes will start again."

I may have overdone it.  But he said, "I like that last part."

"Which part?"

"The part about being a dad."

And the discussion was pretty much over.  We were on to what we were going to do after school.

I was more prepared for this non-event transition than I was after the first year that he was in preschool.  That year I felt myself panicking a little and pushing back a profound sadness.  My reason and time have taught me that in a small community in the Midwest transitioning from the school year to summer does bring changes, but FAR fewer than the changes that I dealt with growing up.  Most people stay in the community.  Even if we don't see them regularly there's a good chance we'll run into them at the library or the park or Lenny will encounter them in a class or other activity.  And then there's social media - a boon for introverts like me who really do care about people and want to stay in touch but dread picking up the phone and can't handle a crammed social schedule.

Growing up the end of the school year was a time of profound sadness mixed with eager excitement for me.  I didn't go to the same school for two years in a row until I was in fifth grade.  Even when I stayed for a couple of years in a row at a school for MKs lots of my friends left - either for good or for a year for "home assignment."  So at the end of every year I knew that I wouldn't see some people in the fall.  And I definitely wouldn't see them over the summer since I was about to climb onto an airplane and fly to the city my parents based their ministry out of.  Which also meant that the last few days of school were filled not only with painful partings, but with packing.  Everything that I considered mine had to either be taken home with me, gotten rid of, or put into storage.  But not much could be stored.  Especially if that particular year we were going "stateside."

As an introvert those intense last days of school were also tinged with a certain disappointment.  I'm most comfortable with a few close friendships but teenage years don't exactly encourage one to be satisfied with that type of social interaction.  Being part of the group - being able to join in with cliques and clubs and team sports - hold a pretty high value.  Sitting around for a day or two signing yearbooks is a great way to highlight the fact that one has a social circle that's smaller than seems to be acceptable.

And any relationship that had been difficult - whether with an adult or a peer - was now unlikely to be resolved.  It was much more likely to be left hanging, possibly for the rest of my life.

Much has been written about the importance of helping TCKs find closure in these types of situations.  That's good.  But nothing can change the fact that every time it happens it's emotionally and physically exhausting.  And even the best of intentions can't change the fact that relationships don't fit well into set time frames.  Hopefully today's TCKs benefit from the internet and the ability to stay in touch over long distances and time.  Getting back in touch with many from my past has changed my view of my connection to my past even now.  But when I was growing up I never would have imagined the possibilities.  Letters between the Philippines and the US could take weeks to arrive and phone conversations cost a dollar a minute.  Even with inflation that's too steep for keeping up with school friends!

So this year I approach the end of the year with some anxiety, but I try to be realistic about what the challenges will be.  I hope that we can manage to keep in touch with Lenny's best friend from this year in spite of her family's busy schedule and ours.  I set up activities for Lenny so so that he will have something to do in the afternoon while the baby and I rest.  As the schedule for the weeks fall into place I realize that the summer will be over before we know it.  I'm already dreading the return of short, cold days, cold and flu season and homework.

Yes, the cycle will continue.  But if the end of the year when I was growing up was like skydiving - standing by the open door of an airplane getting ready to jump into the void while hoping my parachute would open - then these transitions are like sledding - crouching on a sled at the top of the hill, anticipating a quick slide to the bottom followed by another long climb up.  There will be some laughter, a few thrills and possibly a harmless tumble.  It's memorable, but much less momentous.  Calmer and much more manageable. 

Saturday, June 7, 2014

A Quick Note About My Thought Process

From the zoo:  Don't waste your time searching for signs of life!

A friend commented that she hasn't seen much movement on my part regarding this faith journey I'm on.  I've been thinking about that.  I think that what I've been doing, actually, is settling in to the point I'm at right now. 

I've spent a lot of years avoiding thinking about what I believe about God and the Bible.  I went for two years, in fact, without going to church at all.  During that time I didn't spend much time praying, reading the Bible, or even wondering what I believed.  I assumed that I still believed in God, but I had some problems with the details of how my relationship with Him was supposed to work.  Putting myself through the ringer of trying to figure it out was too stressful, so I just stopped trying.

Then when Lenny was starting to really understand what was going on around him I felt that it would be good for all of us to go to church as a family.  I'd found some other ways to plug in to the community, but church was always one that was important to me growing up and I felt that it would be good to do that for my child.  We ended up staying at the church we had been going to (Allen never stopped).  Lenny loves it.  His biggest disappointment is that we always have to leave and he never gets to spend as much time as he would like with his church friends.  It's pretty much the complaint he has about any social interaction.

My biggest anxiety is that I am not teaching him about God the "right" way.  I don't want to fill his head with a bunch of rules and rote answers about who God is and how to please Him.  Perhaps as a result Lenny said, when his children's Bible suggested that he tell others about God, that he doesn't know very much about God and wouldn't know what to tell others.  We suggested he tell what he knows and, if more information is needed, ask an adult.

But when I went back to church things had changed pretty dramatically in my life.  Besides becoming a mom I'd gotten more involved in the community, made one of the closest non Christian friends I've had in my life, and seen an improvement in my health.  I felt more capable and less inclined to accept influences in my life that lead to emotional upset.

People say things like "I don't know what I would do without God in my life" or "God has blessed me so much."  I might have said that in the past.  But the fact that some truly positive changes came in my life at a time when I was feeling very distant from God is confusing to me.  Either I should be extremely grateful because He chose to work in my life at a time when I was doing everything "wrong," or doing everything "wrong" was really the right way to do it and the good changes had nothing to do with belief in, or the existence of God.

I would love it if tomorrow at church I had a supernatural encounter with God that reminded me all over again of the faith and hope I once had and restored my belief to the level it was then.  But I can't go back to the emotional wasteland I was in at that time.  I would rather be here, questioning everything to do with faith but with a tentative confidence in my ability to live a full life than clinging desperately to my faith while my hopes are shattered again and again against the rocky shore.  If God is real, if truth is revealed in the Bible and demonstrated by the church then that reality will withstand questions and even a more skeptical, distant examination.  Well, some might question that.  I've been hearing and reading some interesting thoughts about the nature of belief lately, but that will have to be dealt with another day.  Or night.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Capital T Truth: Examination of Faith

I claim on my Twitter bio to be "obsessively honest."  I should probably take that out.  I probably would be soul-searingly honest on this blog except that I don't want to hurt other people or violate their privacy by revealing parts of their lives they'd rather not have smeared all over the internet.  Also, I don't always want to deal with the feedback I might get.  On that count I should say that for the most part the feedback I've gotten so far has been very positive and helpful.  Some discussions offline have been... revealing.  And tended to leave me feeling a little more cautious about what I share here.

I read a blog post this week about honesty and how it can be good in relationships, but also used as a weapon.  I don't want to do that.  Ideally I would deal with the parts of my story that have to do with other people privately and just share the parts that have to do with me.  It's not really that simple, though.  Nothing that I think or believe or do is not somehow connected to some other person.  That's probably not the best way to say that.  Everything I think and believe and do is somehow connected to some other person.  I can't tell my story in any meaningful way without including parts of the stories of other people.  Maybe that means I just can't tell parts of my story right now.

So here's a story I think I can tell.  My husband and I met through a Christian group on the campus of the large state university we were both attending at the time.  We shared a Seder meal one year with some other group members.  It turns out that lamb does not agree with my digestive system.  I got terrible cramps.  Also at the meal was a Jewish man - an Israeli national who, although he identified as an atheist, had agreed to share the meal with us and explain some of the traditions.  When he saw that I was in pain and hard my explanation he said he thought he could help me - if I was interested.   I agreed - mostly to be polite, I think.

He asked me to sit down and close my eyes.  He asked me if I was a believer.  I was confused by this question.  I said, "I believe some things."  He said something to the effect that what he was going to do might not work without belief.  Then he reached out and placed his hand near my abdomen.  I don't remember anything else that he said or did.  After a moment a warmth spread over the area that had been hurting and the pain subsided somewhat.  He must have seen me relax somewhat and asked if I felt better.  I said I did.  The evening moved on, as far as I can remember, without much discussion of the event.

I still don't know what he did or why it worked.  It might have been Reiki.  That's the closest thing I've heard of to what happened.  This was outside of what I was comfortable with or expected to happen at that time.  But I didn't dwell on it much or question it.  I think that I thought that the mind/body connection is powerful and could probably explain it somehow.

The point is that the question about whether or not I was a believer has stuck with me all these years.  Growing up I was taught that it was not enough to simply believe.  One needed to believe the right truth.  Accepting a general idea of spiritual possibilities or even seeking a general good wouldn't get a person anywhere.  Capital T truth, as defined by the Bible and interpreted by the Evangelical Christian tradition was necessary.  For salvation.  To avoid eternal suffering and separation from God.  Other types of belief were only interesting to me in terms of how they compared or contrasted with "real" truth.  I didn't explore or consider them for their own sake.

Now I wonder if I have really even explored my own faith.  When I read about different ways of interpreting and thinking about scripture I realize that I have accepted some ideas uncritically.  I have been satisfied with the answers I was given growing up and have not really considered the alternatives.  Well, maybe satisfied isn't really the right word.  I accepted them, anyway.  There was a certain element of fear involved.  I think that I didn't want to look to closely at the alternatives.  Capital T truth, after all.  Salvation depended on it.  Eternity.

I thought I was well informed.  I went to church and Sunday school.  Bible class taken seriously at the Christian school I went to.  I have memorized so many scripture passages and they still roll off my tongue.  I took Old and New Testament Survey classes at my Christian college.  I think I know more about Evangelical Christianity than the average bear.  (Or person sitting in the pews or the plush purple chairs as the case may be.)

I also have made at least some effort to both live out and experience the truths I've been taught.  In high school I helped with a ministry to the "squatter" kids who lived near our school.  During summers when I was in college I worked at a day camp for inner city kids.  Once I moved away from home I picked churches that emphasized the work of the spirit and expected, but did not demand, God to "show up" in tangible and exciting ways.

And sometimes, in some ways, that has seemed to happen.  But most of them, like the incident with the digestive discomfort, can probably be explained by looking at the power of the human mind or the impact of good, loving people reaching out to each other.  Which, you may say, is one way that God works.  But I have also seen that happen, as it did that night, when the people involved made no claim to know God.  Which doesn't prove that He doesn't exist... or that He does.  It just... is.

The lonely, sick years wore away at my faith.  The times when I poured out my pain in prayer and begged for a reprieve and nothing changed.  The housebound years when for weeks at a time the only person I saw was my husband.  The lonely feeling of having an illness that required an explanation but was never really understood.  The disappointment of losing a career that I had labored so hard for.  God did not take that time away.  He did not change that situation.  It was like that for a long time.

It did change.  Now it is different.  And part of me thinks that I "should" be so thankful.  That I should be shouting from the rooftops that God is faithful and has finally answered my prayers.  But the career is gone, I think, forever.  And my children still feel the impact of my lack of health every day.  It's so much better than it used to be, but it's far from "good."

So now, in the midst of this full, overwhelming, extremely exhausting time, I try to think about Truth.  I try to understand how it can sit inside me and bring healing instead of constantly rubbing against the old hurting places.  I look at the "popular" ideas that have floated around in my consciousness for as long as I can remember.  They don't seem consistent with my experience.  Is my perception wrong?  Have I understood what I have been taught or the Bible wrong?  Is there a "Truth" out there that I can be at peace with?  It's hard for me to think about it without experiencing debilitating pain.  But it seems impossible for me to walk away from these questions. 

I've realized lately that I haven't really spelled out what my questions about faith are on this blog.  Maybe I can do that soon.  In the mean time, if you have a Pinterest account you can get an idea of what I'm thinking about by looking at the board "Spiritual Journey."  I'm not really trying to plug my Pinterest account here, it's just a great way to spy on people in general and me in particular.  Did I say spy?  I mean... understand??  Maybe I should do a post with links to some of the posts I've pinned with a summary and my thoughts or comments.

Is that enough of a conclusion for this post?  I hope so, because it's what I've got for now.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Beautiful Bodies are Everywhere!

I want to say something about body image and beauty but I'm worried I'll say it wrong, or a least won't say it as well as I'd like to.  But it seems that Zig Ziglar (whoever he was) was right about this:

So here goes:

A few days ago (may be more by the time I actually get this done) a blogger I like a lot posted a thing on Facebook about how she was dreading buying a swim suit and apparently people gave her a hard time about it because she's kind of skinny.  I missed the giving-hard-time part because the comment went by on my feed and I didn't bat an eyelash.  Lots of people are uncomfortable in swim suits.  But then she commented again saying that she had learned her lesson and apparently all the struggles she's had with body image over the years do not qualify her (or allow her or something) to make comments about her body without people hating on her.  I did read the comments after that, lots of which were supportive.

And it got me thinking.  Somebody used the phrase "skinny shaming" and I get that because it's happened to me.  Someone used the phrase "skinny privilege" and tossed out some stats about thinner people making more money and doing better in politics.  I'm too lazy/tired to look them up right now, but I believe it.  It bothered me.  It's not right.

I wanted to talk about physical beauty.  Not "sex appeal" but whatever elusive qualities in a physical body that lead us to enjoy looking at another person.  I'm not talking about having a beautiful personality here.  That's important.  Extremely important.  Probably more than physical beauty.  It's just not what I'm talking about right now.

I wanted to tell people that they don't have to listen to lies about what their bodies have to look like to be beautiful.  I wanted to be like Oprah when she gave away all those cars:

Everybody gets a beautiful body!

Society's definition of beautiful body's is too narrow.  LOTS of bodies are beautiful.  Lots of people are physically beautiful.  All kinds of body parts are beautiful.  Lets take legs, as an example.  Long legs and short ones - hairy, smooth, with or without a thigh gap, bowed or straight, pale or dark, muscular or willowy, curvy or straight or showing signs of a lifetime of hard use.  Yes, even legs with cellulite and varicose veins are beautiful.

But then I thought, maybe this is a little like all those participation trophies kids get these days.  They show up and manage not to assault anyone, so they get a trophy.  Does it really mean anything?  Maybe not.  You show up and have a body and I tell you it's beautiful.  Does it really mean anything?  Well....

If you just read this post then no.  Me telling you that you have a beautiful body is not meaningful.  Sorry.  Beauty is about perception.  It's subjective.  It's personal.  You are beautiful because someone looks at you and sees beauty.  I cannot do that through my blog.

But as human beings we do it all the time.  We look at people and find some of them beautiful.  Way more, I think, and of a far greater variety than one would guess by looking at the magazines in the supermarket checkout line or the lineup of stars at a red carpet event.  Lots of beautiful bodies are walking around in the world.  Lots of people out there are appreciating them.

People are even telling us so.  If someone tells you your beautiful, believe them.  Well believe them if they are actually looking at you rather than writing a blog.  They are the ultimate judge of what beauty is for them.  If you are beautiful for them then it's true.  If they tell you so my advice is to give it the benefit of the doubt that they are not just being nice or trying to make you feel better, but that they really mean it.  Bask for a moment in the sunshine of that "you are beautiful" moment.

Wouldn't it be great if we created more of those moments for each other?

About the trophy thing, though.  Being beautiful is not a competition.  It feels good to be beautiful to someone, but it's not a prize you have to take from someone else.  My husband finds me beautiful but if he sees another woman who is also beautiful that doesn't take away from his appreciation of me.  Partly this is because beauty is not a limited resource - we're not carving up some beauty pie that may someday be consumed.  Also this is because my physical beauty is not the only part of me that he finds attractive.  If that's the only part of someone we know we really barely know them at all.  Human beings are so much more than physical bodies.  Our worth is determined by.... so much more.

Also, while we're opening up the definition of physical beauty lets not try to push people who have enjoyed society's approval for so long out of the circle.  There's room for everyone.  What do I mean by that?  While I was thinking about the whole issue of body image I saw a link to an article about classical paintings that someone airbrushed.  The paintings are of nude women from an era where soft, voluptuous bodies were "the thing."  The airbrushing slimmed them down to make them fit into today's standards.  Some of them are not very attractive - to me.  I think this is either because the original paintings actually distorted the bodies somewhat and it shows up more when they are thinner or because the airbrushing isn't that good.  The top one especially ends up looking like she has too many vertebra.  She looks a little like a Great Dane person.  But the bottom one works pretty well.  Maybe this is a little creepy, but I would look kind of like that... if I gained ten or fifteen pounds.

Because I'm super skinny.  If there's such a thing as too skinny I'm it.  Not too skinny because I starve myself, but too skinny because society tells us that a woman should have some curves and I have precious few.  Because now that I'm almost 40 it kind of irritates me that the clothes that fit me best are in the Juniors section.  Mostly I find this irritating because I like my pants to have a zipper that's more than two inches long and a waist that's within shouting distance of my belly button.  I digress. 

The point is that some people, like my husband find me beautiful and that's good.  But at the bottom of the article, under the painting that looks kind of like me, it says,
"Needless to say, something is definitely lost when the contours of the skin, and all the light and shadow that play on its surface, are cut away and toned to a plasticky finish. The startling GIFs show just how much our perception of beauty has changed over the past centuries, and as well as how extreme today's "norm" truly is. When it comes to beautiful bodies, we're siding with Botticelli every time."
 The authors are entitled to their opinion of which versions are more beautiful.  But implying that thin people are strange and not to be considered beautiful doesn't help anyone. 

Instead I think we should be looking at the people around us.  Really seeing them and realizing that beautiful people are everywhere.  It's probably in our DNA to find all kinds of people beautiful.  And maybe we can enjoy the fact that other people find us beautiful too.

What do you think?  Can we expand the definition of physical beauty?  Can you accept that other people find you beautiful?  Can we have a healthy, balanced view of the importance of physical beauty?  Did I manage to say something that makes sense?

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

It's Kind of Comfortable Here Under This Rock

I found this contest to wind a Kindle.  I kind of want one.  We have no "devices" in our house smaller than a laptop.  Unless you count the flip phones.  Seriously people.  Each adult has a flip phone.  They serve us well.  Plus, as much as I love this post about how great it is to accept and support a mom using her phone at the park I'm kind of glad I don't have the temptation. 

The thing is that to increase my chances of winning the device I was interested in I had to "like" or follow a bunch of kind of annoying social media accounts.  I hit my personal limit for Facebook and Twitter and thought "Why not start an Instagram account and follow there?"  I cannot figure out how to do it.  I think you have to download an app onto a phone.  Flip phone - remember?

Look, we have the internet.  I realize that chia seeds are now a food.  I finally (sort of) get what hashtags are all about.  (Although my spell check is apparently blissfully ignorant of these developments).  I listen to the news on NPR on the radio on the way to Lenny's school so I know that professional football players are (again) suing their employers for failing to mention that playing a violent sport could harm them.  I even know there was some thing with Beyonce and her husband and sister in an elevator.

But I do not care.  About any of the above bits of modern life.  Except hashtags.  I keep thinking if I could just unlock the mystery of hashtags people would pay attention to me on Twitter and read my blog.  I'm thinking of just using the tag #pleasepleasepleasepleasereadmyblog every time I post a link but that uses too many characters.

Wait.  Where was I?  Oh yes, under a rock.  Not totally under a rock.  In fact swamped and drowning in irrelevant information like most of the rest of the internet savvy world.  But at least sheltered by the rock of not having the ability to view it on a piece of equipment I could accidentally drop in the toilet.

Also?  I have not been to a movie theater since.... .....some time before I got pregnant with Linus.  And then it was once, to watch a Jacky Chan movie which was kind of a disappointment.  Further?  I have not watched a real (as in targeted at adults) show on TV or Netflix since before Linus was born.  I did watch that one 007 movie on Netflix with my husband.  We turned the captions on so we could hear it over the chatter of the baby.

And don't get me started on the stuff I don't know about contemporary music.  Actually, I can't really say much about it because I don't even know enough to know what I don't know.  Josh Groban is awesome.  Is that contemporary?

And yet my life seems pretty full - overwhelmingly so, sometimes.  We're wondering where the materials came from for the Great Wall of China.  The baby thinks I do the best ever rendition of "The Wheels on the Bus."  My husband and I actually sat on the front porch last night and discussed lawn care and summer plans.  Plus, I'm on a higher level of "Farm Hero Saga" than any of my Facebook friends (please do not take this as a challenge.  I seem to need this small island of "achievement.")

So maybe it's a question of priorities and actually ignoring some areas of modern culture that don't seem useful or important to me.  Still.  If I had time I'd watch every episode of "Scandal" that has been put up on Netflix since the baby was born.  No spoilers please.  This is on my bucket list.

Wait.  Where was I?  Oh yes.  Do you shelter under any rocks that help make life less overwhelming?  If so, which ones?

Monday, May 19, 2014

Happy Mental Health Awareness Month - or Something

photo credit: Lucia Whittaker via photopin cc

May is "Mental Health Awareness Month" which is handy, because I am depressed.  Ha ha.  It's a depressed person's joke.  Get it?  Well, OK, maybe not really a joke, just a sort of dark irony.  It is never handy to be depressed.  I know.  I've been doing it most of my life.

Really.  The first time anyone (with applicable professional training) told me I was depressed I was sixteen years old.  They decided not to start me on medication at that time because they noticed that I had made what seemed like a significant (and fairly sudden) improvement.  Who knows.  This was in the pre-Prozac days and teenage depression is notoriously hard to treat even with modern meds, so maybe it was the best choice.  I'm not sure.  By the time I was twenty Prozac had been developed and I was taking it.  The longest time I've gone without has been surrounding the conception, birth and breastfeeding of Linus - almost two years now.  With Lenny I stopped a few weeks after I found I was pregnant and started a few months after he was born.  I kept breastfeeding.

Also sometimes I've had fairly significant anxiety and taken medication for that.  Sometimes I've taken lots of medication - with somewhat questionable results.  One of the most dramatic improvements I've seen is when I started doing vitamin B12 shots.  That may have actually "healed" something up in my brain because even after I stopped doing them I have seen differences.

Oh, meds have usually made a difference, but most of my most profound depressions have been while I was taking meds.  Time for a new one, the medical wisdom goes.  That is its own nightmare and is probably responsible for the only hospitalization for depression I've had... to date.

So what am I trying to say here?  Depression has been called the "common cold" of mental health disorders.  I'm not sure if that's because it's so common or because treating it only gets at the symptoms, not the cause.  Counseling combined with meds, research says, is more effective than meds alone.  So I've done that for years too.  Most of the time I am really a model patient.  I am, in fact, a very cooperative individual.

So that's sort of a whirlwind history.  This current depression feels a little different.  After a winter filled with flues and colds and terrible bitter cold and a baby who refuses to sleep for more than two hours at a time I am exhausted.  Now we have had a little time of better health and better weather, but still the baby rarely sleeps better.  So it's hard to say how much of this might resolve itself if I could just get some better quality sleep.

So in case you're wondering, here's how the sleeping thing goes.  Linus sleeps next to me.  There's a crib with one side missing right next to the bed.  Occasionally he sleeps there, but mostly on the bed beside me.  Either way when he starts to fuss I wake up and before he's completely awake I shift him slightly, rearrange my clothes and he "latches on" and starts to nurse.  Usually in ten or fifteen minutes he's back asleep and I rearrange slightly and fall asleep too.  Truly, if he does this in two hour shifts all night long I actually feel like I have almost gotten actual sleep.  Sometimes though he has a sore tummy or something and wakes up more often.  Sometimes every hour.  Then I tend to feel like I'm being tortured.

(In case you're wondering, I am aware of the various methods of "sleep training" proposed by various baby "experts" and we have, so far, chosen not to use them.)

So none of that really explains how this depression feels different except to say that it definitely didn't drop out of the clear blue sky.  Most of the winter I was in a pretty miserable mood, but when I'm physically ill sometimes it creates a kind of fuzzy peace that softens the mood.  Also, I just have to focus on doing the next thing and don't have energy for the deeper darker thoughts and emotions. 

But now that spring is here and we've had a little time without viruses I have a little energy to focus on the stuff I've been putting on the back burner.  The thing about being a mom is that you learn to do impossible things.  The thing about being a mom who's depressed is that everything feels impossible.  And you keep doing it anyway.  Most of it anyway.  And this time, for some reason, I felt so powerful and invincible and depressed and hopeless that I've been trying to solve all of life's faith dilemmas while getting no more than two hours of sleep at a time.  It's not going too badly, actually.  Or maybe it's going terribly.  I'm not sure.

Quite often I read people describing depression as involving a sense of numbness.  But for me, this time anyway, some experiences seem to be intensified.  I can feel the amazing softness of the baby's skin or the gentle warmth of the finally shining sun.  I appreciate the humor of Lenny sharing with the group at library story time that his mom is sarcastic (this was the Facebook status update:  Yesterday at library story time they read the Mo Willems book about naked mole rats. Which says they can be very sarcastic. The librarian said, "like teenagers" and Lenny added "or my mom." Busted.)  I treasure the tender moments between my boys and their dad.  I am ridiculously happy about the fact that my boys now have matching summer shoes.  I take the boys to band concerts and the park.  I decorate cookies and we take some to our favorite neighborhood grandpa guy.

But under it all there is an aching.  Actual physical pain some of the time that often spills over into tears.  Almost every day I think "I can't do this."  I want to sleep more than anything but beyond that I'd actually like to feel numb.  I want to watch crime shows on Netflix and do crochet or make paper beads.  I want to play computer games that are stupid and mindless and find them absorbing and fascinating.  I want to cry without feeling like I'm cheating the people in my life by using time and energy that I could be using to connect with them to instead wallow in a pain that I desperately do not want to let spill over into their lives.

It's hard to concentrate.  Just moving from one task to another takes a palpable effort and sometimes Lenny sees me pause and reminds me, "We're supposed to be in a hurry Mommy.  I need my lunch.  We want to have time to play soccer before school."  And I sigh and tell him that I'm doing my best and he says "I know your tired."  And I remind myself that I will never be a perfect parent and that there's a chance that his awareness of my struggles will make him a stronger and better person instead of scarring him for life.

I am already in the habit of letting lots of "little" things go.  I take Lenny and his friend to the park even though the dishes are stacked on the kitchen counters and the hallway is a sea of unwashed laundry.  I sit in the late afternoon sun and hope that it won't damage the baby's skin since I've forgotten a hat or sunscreen for him.  I watch Lenny play and marvel at the ease with which he sweeps from one game to another with his friends.  I brace myself for the letdown he'll experience after we drop his friend off and get home.  I go inside and need to empty the dishwasher so I can make room on the table for supper but I just cannot do one more impossible thing so I sit down in front of the computer instead.  I know that my sweet husband will come home soon and I'll borrow some momentum from him to get back into the swing of doing all the stuff.

So that's my mental health story for the moment.  I'm still pondering whether I should call my psychiatrist and tell her that I think that starting up counseling again is not going to be the solution we hoped for and maybe I should also start taking meds again.  I'm pretty sure I'll put it off at least until after I talk to my therapist on Wednesday. Mental Health Matters

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Faith Dilemma - Trying to Be Rational

As far as I can see there are three logical possibilities for resolving my faith dilemma.  At some point I would love to flesh each of these out - what makes one seem more like the "right" choice than any of the others.  For now I will just list them:
  1. I can believe that Christianity is true/correct, but I need to find new ways to think about or interact with it.  What I'm doing now is not working.  It's making me crazy.
  2. I can believe that there is a God, but the Christian "version" is not the "correct" one.  This opens up a world of possibilities that I'm too exhausted right now to even really consider.
  3. I can believe that the "spiritual world" is a fabrication of the human mind and I don't need to concern myself with it at all.  This option seems simplest but it presents some challenges in relating to important people in my life.
 I'm running on empty right now and I often think that this is a bad time for me to try to figure out what I believe about the entire universe and everything beyond.  But this is just the time when I would like to have a belief system that offers me some kind of solace or encouragement or strength.  Instead, what I find is a bunch of crazy-making questions that I obsess about.  I feel that if I could just resolve them the hurt would go away.  But sometimes I wonder if the pain is driving the questions and if I just got rid of that I would start thinking about all of this in a different way.  Sometimes I think I should just go back to my psychiatrist and say that counseling is great but would she please just give me some drugs!?!  Because I'm sick of feeling this way and they would almost certainly help at least a little.

But these questions of mine are not really new to me.  Some I've been struggling with since childhood and some have come to the forefront since I got sick about a decade ago.  Certainly my spiritual walk has always mirrored my emotional life - full of turmoil and pain.  It seems impossible for me right now to figure out the chicken/egg relationship between the two aspects of my awareness.  It seems to me that my faith offers and even promises a level of peace and joy that I have never been able to attain.  Maybe it's my own sense of personal failure that's driving me to question the whole framework.  Anyhow, I question the value of a faith that I can only grasp if my serotonin levels are high enough.

So for now I will carry on.  Reading, writing, thinking, talking.  For some reason spilling my guts on the internet so you curious, concerned and hopefully compassionate fellow journeyers can follow along and possibly participate.

Friday, May 16, 2014

The "Twoth" Child - Reflections on Having Another

 This was written when I was about six months pregnant with Linus.  I have pretty uncomfortable pregnancies - constant nausea that can only be controlled with medication that worsens my fatigue being my main complaint.  So life changed for Lenny before Linus ever took his first breath.  I can say for sure now that Lenny loves Linus dearly, but what I've written here still seems true to me.

Lenny has asked me twice now if "before this pregnancy" we wanted to have another kid.  The first time I said, "Yes" and he said, "why?" and I said, (without as much conviction as I would have liked) "We thought it would be fun."  "That's right," he said.  "It will."

This morning when he asked the same question and I said "Yes" he said, "That's a good idea because you won't have to play with me.  I'll be able to play with the baby - when he gets to be three."  That's the magic line in Lenny's mind when "the baby" will stop being a helpless, diaper wearing, toy chewing, toothless creature and become a human being he (Lenny) can play with.  In the meantime Lenny is planning to help me change diapers by singing the ABC song to the baby.  He wants to know if I think the baby will like it and I say yes.  Then he starts to recall details of stories he's heard about how he learned to talk and wondering if the baby will do the same things.

At this point in the life of our second child I am deeply convinced of the following:  Having another child so that the first will have a playmate is a BIG mistake.  I don't think that's the reason we decided to do it.  I think that I just had this maternal drive that I wasn't ready to turn off or tamp down and (tick tock) I felt I was running out of time to see if it would just fade away.  I didn't feel that Lenny would be deprived or stunted if he never had a built in playmate or had to learn to share (or defend) his toys 24/7.  I didn't feel that a "normal," "healthy" childhood needed to involve a sibling.

Now I feel, with some confidence, that I could have provided hours - years even - of quality, focused companionship to Lenny with the energy that I am now and in the future sinking into creating and caring for his little brother.  Don't get me wrong.  I know that Lenny will gain advantages from dealing with the challenges and blessings of another person to love, play with and yes, compete with.    But he will get less individual attention and I will NOT have an easier life. 

So if you think having a second (or any other number) child is for the sake of the other child(ren) my (unsolicited) advice is: skip it.  Take the child you have to the zoo, museum, science center, park, library.  Read him/her another story.  Play a game of "Sorry."  Sing that song that will get stuck in your head for three days and listen to that squeaky little voice sing along.  Do it all without heart burn, constipation, swollen feet and an overwhelming, constant sense of exhaustion that all combine to almost completely block out the sense of well-being you fleetingly remember achieving at other points in life.  Just enjoy what you have and don't feel any obligation to change it.

Don't get me wrong.  If you want to have another child - if you feel there is a place in your arms and hearts and lives for a second (or any other number) child I would also say: go for it.  Of course it's still true that hard things are worth doing.  That all the funny, amazing, joyful moments we've had over the past (almost) five years would have never happened without similar moments of frustration, exhaustion and anxiety when Lenny was still on the inside.  That this new little person will add dimensions of love and joy to our lives that we can only imagine now.  This child does not have to stack up to some kind of "worth it" criteria.  It's not his job to make our lives richer or more entertaining or help us learn patience or become better human beings.  But he will.  We will.  Some part of my stomach-acid-seared soul knows this.  Some part of my exhaustion soaked brain gets it.    But not the part that would like to take Lenny to the zoo, or swimming, or at least help him clean up the living room.

 photo credit: Wilson X via photopin cc

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Faith and the Vacuum: An Unguarded Moment of Pain

 I wrote this yesterday but didn't post it because it was so raw and I felt so shattered.  After seeing my therapist today I'm feeling a little more hopeful but still pretty vulnerable.  As much as I'd like to feel "special" though, I know I'm not the only one who has, is, or will be in this place.

I knew I shouldn't read this post by Sarah Bessey.  I skipped over the link a couple of times on my Facebook and Twitter feeds.  She's a very talented writer who often moves me to tears.  Plus, the post was about sadness, which I am trying to avoid thinking too deeply about just now.

But then I saw it one more time on Twitter and clicked through.  Of course it was good and much of it resonated with me.  Although I didn't grow up in a "Charismatic" environment I can still relate to the need in Christian circles to come across as joyful - overcomers, those who are richly blessed by God.  When she talked about those who felt like failures - who felt shame because they didn't measure up - I felt validated by her words.

I wasn't good at pushing my sadness to the side. I often felt that if I could just push a little harder - read more scripture, pray more, believe better - I would step out of the shade of my own sadness and into the joy that God intended for me.  If I needed to place blame I always placed it at my own door.

But then I read these words and the tears that had been gathering in my eyes spilled out:
"I am still charismatic, I still believe in signs and wonders, I still believe that God is for us and that we were meant for shalom."
 I still believe.   And the first thought that scudded through my head was "I don't believe."  And it hurt like a knife in my chest.  It hurts like that.  Actual physical pain.

I hope it's not true.  I hope it's like other "intrusive thoughts" that I've been having lately that I assume will vanish when the depression lifts.  I don't want it to be true that I don't know how to believe something that has been at the core of who I am for my entire life.  I don't feel able to walk through that door.  But I don't know how to stay where I am now.

I can remember when my faith was a balm to my struggling, hurting heart.  I remember standing in worship with fellow believers and being filled with joy and a sense of the rightness of it all.  I thought and felt and even said, "This is what we were created to do.  This is why I exist."

But now when I join the body of Christ and listen to the music and look at the words on the screen and try to sing I feel blankness or pain.  When I try to picture, as I could in the past, the loving arms of a strong, sure heavenly Father I feel a vacuum and reach instead for the wiggly, solid body of my baby.  I know at least that my love for him and his need for me are real.  They comfort me and calm my fears that the pain will break my mind.

It's true that I have so many questions.  I want to make sense of what the Bible says and how Christians behave.  But I fear that some mystical, spiritual element of belief - some desire or need or ability that I cannot name - has left me.  Maybe there are no answers left for me and I should just accept the peace of not knowing or even asking.

I was brought up to have answers for people who needed to believe.  If reason fails, look to experience.  If experience fails, look to reason.  If they both fail I have no answers.  I just have to pick Lenny up from school and put chocolate frosting and rainbow sprinkles on sugar cookies.

Blow your nose.  Dry your eyes.  Choose the joy you can find in life.  Live the life you have.  This I can grasp.  I think.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Being a Mom Means Keeping them Safe. Or At Least Knowing All the Risks. Right?

 It's Mother's Day.  I think about being a mother quite often.  I do it all the time.  But what can I say about it?  It's possible that everything that can be said about motherhood has been said somewhere on the internet. It's tiring, overwhelming, fulfilling, joyful, meaningful, identity changing, fun, boring, hard. These days it's over-thought, over-discussed, over-done and just generally over-the-top.

And yet we are still somehow always lacking in the support, connections, sleep and downtime that we need. Talking to other moms and reading scads of "mommy blogs" makes me think that the one word that universally describes motherhood is "intense."

My granny says that "Moms these days have it so easy." Between our convenience foods and our electric dryers and portable DVD players we sure do have some advantages over moms 50 (or so) years ago. But we've replaced the physical labor with a kind of fevered anxiety about how to keep our children safe and get them to adulthood in the best shape possible that leaves us weary before we even start.

Lots of people blame "mompetition" but I blame the hospital. Well, at least I think it starts at the hospital. I remember pretty well how it went with Linus since he was just born ten months ago. Before we even managed to get him home we had been informed of a bevy of ways we could kill or harm our child - really. DON'T let him sleep on his tummy (and never ever sleep in the same bed with your baby). That could kill him. DON'T shake him. That could kill him. Make sure he's getting enough breast milk so that he doesn't get dehydrated - and die. Put him in a car seat when you leave or when you have a wreck on the way home he will die. Make an appointment with his pediatrician because if he doesn't get weighed at least every thirty minutes he could waste away and... die.

And then all the little stuff that for some reason stuck in my head. You know those little blue snot sucker things they give you? Be careful with those you could irritate the lining of his nose. Put something over his hands, he's scratching himself. Use the right kind of ointment on those sore tender nipples so you don't make the baby sick (sorry, nobody said or even implied he would die this time.) Congratulations - he can hear and is not abnormally jaundiced. You can go home now - have fun!

From there on out it's easier to dodge spit up than information about ways babies and children can be harmed. Jammies too loose? Dangerous in case of fire. Pesticides in their foods? Just sounds bad. Do you have an older home? Could there be lead in your paint? Did you know that baby gates, slides at playgrounds and shopping carts can all lead to injuries? Hotdogs are so dangerous that it has been suggested that they be redesigned to prevent choking. Letting babies sleep in car seats (when not actually driving) can make it hard for them to breath. Too much time in swings and seats in general can keep them from developing their neck and shoulder muscles properly. Disposable diapers could be keeping their reproductive organs too warm and making our boys less likely to be fertile as adults.  Noise machines might help babies sleep better, but they could also be harming baby's hearing.   Screen time is a handy way to keep them from getting electrocuted by power outlets or drinking cleaning fluid but never let them have it until they're at least two years old and then only very occasionally because it will hurt their brains.

I'd provide links for all this information but chances are that your browser has a handy little search bar at the top. This information is harder NOT to find than to find. (The links I do have?  All from Pinterest boards of mine.  Yeah, I collect this information just in case I ever start to relax)  And it's all true. Or at least has some anchor in reality. For every one of the above pieces of information a heartbroken or at least wiser and more careful parent has a story about how the actual danger was visited on them and their child.

 So if the term "helicopter parent" is used with derision and we are told that letting our children take more risks would help them be more confident and responsible you'll just have to bear with us.  Because really I've just scratched the surface here in terms of potential dangers we need to protect our children from.  I mean I haven't even mentioned UV rays and trying to find a sunscreen that won't fill their bodies with toxic chemicals.  And what about finding a baby carrier that won't cause hip problems?  See, there's LOTS more.  And we haven't even gotten to the preschool years yet.

In the shade, wearing a hat and a shirt.  I skipped sun screen this time.

So do modern mothers have it easy?  Well.... sort of.  I'm currently letting my baby chew on a plastic (gasp!) kid's meal (gasp!) toy that was definitely not intended for children under three years old (gasp!) because it's the one thing that caught his interest so that I could ruminate for a few minutes on the over-the-top pressure we've created by sharing all this information about ways we can avoid risks and keep our children safe. 

I know that I can never keep them completely safe.  It makes sense to me to be informed about simple changes I can make to increase the chances that they will be safe and healthy(er).  But sometimes I wouldn't mind if we could go back to the days when the youngest child stood on the center front seat in the car and parents threw their arms out protectively when they had to suddenly apply the brakes!  I wish I knew how to turn down the volume on all the constant information about how are children are at risk and what we should do to protect them.

What's your take?  How do you find peace in the midst of all the precautions?

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Important But Also Ironic: Kidnapped Nigerian Girls

 The amount of time it took for the media to pay attention to the story about the kidnapped Nigerian girls had some people crying racism.  I think it had something to do with that and something to do with the fact that most of us are overwhelmed by the stories of violence and abuse coming out of Africa.  And the story's hard to relate to.

Why did we see SO much coverage of the missing plane and so little of this story?  After all, we are fairly certain these girls are alive and can be helped.  Well most of us have been on a plane at some point in our lives.  Maybe we've even thought "What if this hunk of metal just fell from the sky?"  Personally, I've been on a plane that had to make an emergency landing because the cockpit was on fire.  Since I was ten years old at the time I found it exciting to put on an oxygen mask and review the seat back brochure on how to use the inflatable exit ramp (which we didn't get to use).  So I know that the improbable achievement of hurtling through the air in a tin can is not without its risks.

But most of us don't entertain even the slightest thought that hundreds of our children might be removed from a public place in broad daylight.  Even I, who also had classmates and teachers who were victims of kidnappings as a child (really, sometimes my own life sounds remarkably unlikely), have a hard time making this scenario seem real.  And what on earth do we do about it?  Who do we send?  How do we keep the perpetrators from turning around and doing exactly the same thing next week?  At least with the plane we could put pressure on the "powers-that-be" and make sure that the search was done with the utmost expediency and thoroughness.

So we, here in our safe comfortable homes in America do what we can.  We talk about it on social media.  Which led to this ironic juxtaposition on my Twitter feed today.

It's kind of a mystery to me how hashtags really do work, but I guess in this case it's a question of bringing attention to a real and serious problem.  So we feel like we did something and hope, in our usual helpless way, that someone somewhere can make a real difference.

As usual I do not have a satisfying conclusion.  

Monday, May 5, 2014

Sons, Feminism and Disney Princesses

photo credit: octaviosn via photopin   

I said I'd write a post about Disney princesses and feminism and I should probably just do it before the thought leaves my head.  It may not be as well fleshed out as I'd like but that's life.

I've written before that
I'm not sure how to help my boys develop a healthy sense of themselves and others given all the messages they get from media, marketing and society in general about what girls and boys are supposed to do and like.  For a while it was feeling like a lost cause with Lenny who, at age five is really into rules and definitions.  Even a much less observant child would have noticed the pink and purple aisles full of dolls and dress up clothes.  "We don't want to go there, that's girl stuff."

"I didn't play with them, they were playing girl games."

"Why were they girl games?"

"Oh, you know...."

Usually it had to do with sparkles and rainbows and such.

But lately his best friend at school is a girl I'll call Emma.  I noticed at Valentine's Day when he came home with this picture of them together.   Then he started bringing home papers with her phone number written in her own kindergarten hand on pieces of school paper.  They NEEDED to set up a play date.  Finally we worked out the details and they've had two so far.

But the part that has to do with Disney princesses started at school during recess.  Lenny announced one night at supper that they had played "mermaid" during recess that day.  Then he described being a pirate and defending the climbing structure against some other boys who were "Autobots."  I said, "How did the mermaid come into it?"

"Very well."

"I mean when did the mermaid come into the game?"

"At the beginning."

It turned out, naturally, that his friend Emma was the mermaid and that sometimes Lenny was a pirate and sometimes he was a person and sometimes he was a mermaid.  I didn't figure out that the game was based on Disney's "Little Mermaid" until later that week when they were playing together and I heard her mention Arial.

So since Lenny seemed a little confused about what was really going on in this game we sat down and watched the movie together.  We have an old VHS copy (along with the equipment required to play it) which Lenny's dad had before I met him.  I'm not actually sure what the story is behind that one.  Anyways....

Lenny liked the movie, other than the part where I went to answer the phone (we have a land line - coming soon: a post about how comfortable I am here under this rock) and Linus started crying and Lenny couldn't leave because the movie was still playing and he didn't want to miss it.  His favorite parts were the kissing part and the part where the animals "attacked" to stop the wedding.  I think by the kissing part he meant the "Kiss the Girl" song.

This turned out to be less of a big deal on the play ground than I would have thought.  When I asked, the next day, if he'd told Emma that he watched the movie he said he didn't get a chance. ("She talks a lot.")  They have continued to play the game, but Lenny doesn't seem to feel any differently about it.

So my point is that it turned out that all the messages these two have gotten about what boys and girls are supposed to be like have not gotten in the way of them being friends.  And they managed to adapt at least one Disney princess movie into a game that is fun for both of them and some other kids in their class.

Is it important that Arial has an overprotective father and doesn't even seem to have a mother?  Or that the "evil villain" in the movie is female?  Or that the ultimate goal that this princess can find - other than walking around on dry land - is to get married?  Probably eventually it will.  But at the moment they don't seem to see this particular story as something they should expect to find in the "real world."  Emma says she isn't going to get married  - ever.  (She discovered some details of having babies and decided she never wants to do that.)  Lenny says she'll change her mind when she gets bigger. 

Disney princesses are notorious for portraying young women as powerless and in need of husbands.  They even generally use illustrations that are so uniformly "pretty" - soft and clean and thin and pastel colored - that it's a wonder that any of us end up having any hope of being attractive.  At the same time being attractive is clearly set up as one of the most important jobs a girl has.

But at least at this point, for these two kindergarteners, the story is as much a part of their pretend play world as talking cars that save the world.  And the fact that Arial needs the prince to fall in love with her and kiss her to avoid life as a strangely contorted sea plant does not seem to give Lenny a particularly powerful position in the game even though he is the obvious choice for the prince.

So hopefully they will continue to approach the messages they get from movies and even from the world in general through the lens of their own personalities.  And maybe the messages they are getting at home about people being allowed to choose what they like and do and to be who they authentically are will be louder than the messages they get everywhere about conforming to rigid stereotypes.  I hope so.

Friday, May 2, 2014

I Don't Always Have Superpowers

I said I would write about Disney princesses and feminism but I'm typing with one hand while holding the baby.  I'd rather rest while holding a sleeping baby than put him down, wait 20 minutes and then deal with an awake-but-cranky-because-he-didn't-get-enough-sleep baby.  I do this a lot.  I tell myself that it's OK because I need the rest anyway.  I tell myself that other moms do this and some who can't have babies who only take half hour naps and are cranky most of the time.  (I'd provide evidence of this, but my examples come from a "secret" Facebook group and I don't want to violate anyone's privacy.) 

Most of all, I tell myself that I don't need to rationalize or defend my choices because the biggest favor I can do myself is to do what works for our family and try to be comfortable with the results.  

But lets be honest.  Sometimes I don't listen to my own great advice.  Sometimes my plans and efforts work out great and I feel like I have superpowers.  I had this idea, for example, about how to get a hot shower when it was just me and Linus at home.  I don't like to leave him in a room by himself.  I know, people do it, but I'm not people, I'm me, and it makes me uncomfortable.  He tends to cry - either because he's not used to it or because, like Lenny before him, he's shaping up to be a rip-roaring extrovert (heaven help us).

So this is what I did:

Which worked really well until this happened:

Which wasn't the end of the world since his fingers didn't get caught or injured or anything.

And I did get my hot shower while the baby played contentedly.  Hooray for me.

(Exclamation point.  Smiley face.  I'm just not in the mood.)

Pretty much the next thing I did was check in with social media.  Still riding high on my he-doesn't-need-my-full-attention-all-the-time success story I sat the baby on the chair by the computer and turned my back.

I probably could have thought that through a little better.  But hey, impromptu sensory play.

I've been reading a lot of blogs and I see it all the time on "mommy blogs."  We swing between hopefully making lists of suggestions for how to handle this crazy life a little better and admissions that it's often all we can do to keep the wheels from flying off as we drive down the highway at a gazillion miles an hour.  Some days we are ready to take over the world, reorganize our kitchen cabinets and teach our kids to clean their own rooms.  Other times we just hope we can find enough chocolate caffeine or alcohol to keep us from finally indulging in that fifteen minute scream fest that's been lurking at the tip of our brains for the last three days.

I don't have any great solution.  I don't know how to make the pendulum stop swinging at some nicely balanced taking-the-kids-to-play-at-the-park-and-not-worrying-if-I-feed-them-frozen-pizza point.  I'm just wanting to remind myself that I don't always have superpowers and I don't have to.  I'll just grab some chocolate as I head out the door get pick Lenny up from school and hope that I manage to wing it one more time.

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

So I Married an Astrophysicist: Dispelling Myths About Scientists

I wanted to post this on Earth Day but I didn't get it done.  I didn't actually seen that much about Earth Day on social media.  It was kind of a relief actually, because it seems like I'm just as likely to see "the earth is doing fine and anyone who says otherwise is selling something" as "lets all be responsible and take care of this our home since for now it's the only one we have."

Somehow I can hardly ever resist getting into discussions about whether or not the earth - specifically the climate - is in trouble and whether or not we should do something about it.  Without fail those discussions eventually get to the question of whether or not we can trust the people who are telling us that climate change is a problem - scientists.  It makes sense.  If you want to discount an idea a good strategy is to question the motives and qualifications of the people who are advocating it.

Except that few people really seem to question the qualifications.  We all rely on science and technology every day.  Our western world view is a "materialistic" one - we are interested in stuff and we accept that it can be studied and understood.  Most people accept that science has its uses and can be trusted in certain situations.  But it's done by people, and so is only as "pure" as the motives and methods those people use.  So the question of whether or not we should take global climate change seriously often comes down to whether or not we should trust the motives of the scientific community.

I notice this because I'm married to a scientist.  He's not a climate scientist - he's an astronomer, which means that he's well qualified to read the research done by climate scientists and he believes it's valid.  (This note from the resident scientist:  Specifically since Venus is thought to have undergone a runaway greenhouse effect in its past, astronomers need to have a basic understanding of planetary atmospheres and climate to teach planetary astronomy.)  Most of the rest of the scientific community thinks it's valid too, actually, which is pretty amazing.  But when people discount the science because they don't trust the scientists I sometimes take it a little personally.  I think that if they actually knew scientists the way I do they might think differently about the science.

I don't see "scientists" as guys in white coats with taped glasses and pocket protectors.  I don't think of them as "Dr. Jekyll" types trying to attain immortality by creating something never before achieved.  I don't see them as pawns of any particular political agenda or as money-hungry individuals who will make wild claims in order to get the next grant.  I definitely don't see them as people who are willing to engage in and promote a vast conspiracy for the purpose of controlling the public.

When I think of scientists I think of the man who sits across the table from me at supper time. He's the one who's been with me through years of illness.  The one who gingerly held that first tiny baby of ours, who loads the dishwasher after I'm in bed and takes the boy - now a great big five-year-old - to music class on Tuesdays.  "My" scientist is this guy who reads Tolkien and Game of Thrones, and is a member of the local curling league.  He's the one with the beautiful bass voice sitting beside me in church.

Sure, you say, sounds like a nice guy.  But that's just one example.  It doesn't really tell us about scientists as a class.  We all know that in general they have to make a living, so whatever research they do is tainted by the need for money.  Plus, they are politically liberal, and likely to be atheists or at least humanists.  Right?

Well... I wanted to put lots of links in this post to stats showing just how many scientists have the characteristics listed above, but they were harder to find during nap time than I had hoped.  (Links later dug up by the local astronomer :) )  But the Dr. looked them up, so I hope you take a look if you think I'm just... wrong.  So here are a few observations about what I have learned about science during my ten plus years of hanging around with a scientist.  For what it's worth.

  • When I talk about scientists I'm talking about people with Ph.D.s.  It takes a long time to get a Ph.D. This study found an average of almost eight years for those seeking a degree in the physical sciences.  Plus, jobs that provide tenure usually require prior completion of one or two "post doctorate" position(s) which are 2-3 year stints of primarily doing research, or 4-6 years of work after the Ph.D. to become eligible for most positions.  It then normally takes another 6 years to get tenure, then at least another 6 years to promote to full professor.  
  • Most scientists teach at universities.  They may or may not have tenure - or even a job that offers tenure.  Many universities are hiring very few tenure-track professors these days, instead mainly hiring non-tenure-track instructors on (often) fixed-length contracts of 1-3 years.
  • Scientists do research that is published in "peer-reviewed" journals. The review process involves other scientists of note in the specific field of the submitted work looking over the paper and evaluating the scientific merit of the work (in particular ensuring that proper scientific methodology was used in drawing the conclusions of the work). 
  • Research is funded by grants which are provided either by the U.S. government or private corporations or groups.  But the groups that provide the funding do not determine whether or not the findings get published.  For a discussion of how National Science Foundation
    (NSF) grants are handled click here.  Note that (at least in the case of the NSF) the decisions of who gets the grants are not made by government bureaucrats but by a panel of scientists in the field brought in to rank the proposals for funding priority.
  • Scientists working at universities are, in general, not getting rich.  Considering the number of years they spend getting their education... lets just say if money were their main concern they would be doing something else.  Case in point (from the late 1990s): Wall Street firms were targeting new physics Ph.D. recipients to do complex analysis of business deals, and paying considerably more than your typical university.  But you can't do fundamental physics research on Wall Street...
  • Scientists do have egos.  They are generally extremely invested in finding truth.  They would most likely enjoy being the first to make a discovery, but they are also very interested in finding out whether a claim made by another scientist is true. So the idea of "consensus" is important.  There's at least as much to be gained by disagreeing with other scientists as by disagreeing with them.
  • Scientists are aware that their assumptions and biases affect the work they do.  They often try to spell those ideas out so that they can get the clearest view possible of what they are researching.
  •  I have observed that, at least in the "physical sciences" (as opposed to the "humanities") scientists tend to have a variety of religious/philosophical beliefs.  They share a passion for the truth and many (if not most) believe that the natural and the supernatural are different realms that should be addressed separately.  This study shows that scientists tend to participate in faith communities at close to the same rate as the general population.
  • It's true, scientists do tend to be politically liberal, although that's not always the case.  And on topics like global warming they are sometimes providing information to people who make policy changes or recommendations.  But data does not belong to political parties.  In my experience scientists are primarily interested in finding truth.  Politics getting involved is about as annoying for them as it is for the rest of us.
My take-home is this:  Scientists work very hard to become qualified to research a particular topic.  They work within a framework designed to drive them to use good methods and challenge their findings.   Money is involved, but it's not the main factor motivating most scientists.  Also the government doesn't decide who gets money for research or how it's used.  Scientists come from a variety of faith backgrounds.  They have a variety of political views.

These ideas are important to me because I believe that we should take care of the planet we live on.  We aren't going to be able to make good decisions about how to do that unless we have good information about the situation we're in at the moment.  But if we have good information and we ignore it because we don't trust the people who gave it to us.... we just can't afford to do that.

Note: 5/1/14 Just wanted to add (thanks to a reader who commented on FB) that medical research, which is often funded privately and performed outside of academia, and may involve a group of scientist with a different demographic profile.