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.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

The Culture of Happiness

It's February.  We have had one virus after another sweeping through this house pretty much without stopping since November.  The picture above was taken the other day when the temperatures got above freezing and rain started falling on top of the melting snow.  It's sort of a picture of nothing.  Sometimes winter is really ugly.

And I really want to complain about it.  But if there's one thing I've learned in my life it's that it's not OK to sit around feeling sorry for myself.  I have learned this lesson.  But now I think that I would be better off unlearning it.  Maybe if I would allow myself to give voice to some of my misery I could actually appreciate and experience the joy.

The other day I read this piece that was basically excerpts from travel tips for Russians coming to America.  What struck me about it was the image of the smiling American: 
“US etiquette requires that you smile in each and every situation. If you want to travel to America, be prepared to give a smile not only to friends and acquaintances, but also to all passers-by, in shops, to the staff at the hotel, police on the streets, etc.
"US etiquette also forbids lamenting the troubles of life, or sharing your problems with others. Sharing in this country can only be positive emotions—sorrows and frustrations are impermissible. In the US you only complain to acquaintances in the most extreme cases. Serious problems are for close friends and relatives only.
"However, it would be wrong to believe that the Americans with their smiles only create the illusion of well-being and that their smiles are stretched with false joy. This is not so. Americans: they are a nation that truly feels happy. These people get used to smiling from the cradle onwards, so they do not pretend to be cheerful. The desire for a successful happy life is inculcated from childhood.”
 Wow.  Is this true?  Let me break it down. Compared to some countries we are definitely in-your-face, have-a-good-day, extremely-annoying smiley people.  But without having actually studied the topic in a scientific way I'd guess that people in many countries in Southeast Asia smile more in social situations.  Which is just one reason Americans come back from those countries saying "Everyone  was so friendly!"

Are we allowed to talk about our troubles?  This one is tricky.  I am not very good at figuring out the balance.  I have, you may have noticed, an almost pathological need to tell the truth.  It took me a long time to figure out that when people say "How are you?" the correct, acceptable response is almost always, "Fine!  How are you?"  In fact, it's possible (I have found from experimental evidence) to skip directly to the return "How are you?" without arousing any particular interest in response.  We are allowed to complain about the weather or the annoying roadwork in town.  But really I think the statement above is mostly right.  If you ask me how I'm doing the last thing you are expecting to hear is "Well I'm pretty depressed at the moment but I just started a new medication and I'm pretty hopeful that it will help."

I think that in Evangelical Christian circles this tendency is even more extreme.  We are children of God, right?  How awesome is that?!?!!!!  I mean "In everything give thanks for this is the will of God" right?  We may be a little uncomfortable at the moment, but failing to be thankful for all our blessings?  Not cool.  How does that Sunday School song go?  "I'm so happy, so very happy, I've got the love of Jesus in my heart!"

And how about the last part of the quote from above?  Are we, Americans, actually as happy as our smiling faces would indicate?  Are we faking it?  Somewhere in between, I'd say.  Really, I'd rather live in the Midwest than anywhere in Eastern Europe.  I don't want to sound too ethnocentric.  It's just that I think that stuff like access to healthcare and personal liberty to say nothing of education and fresh vegetables, no matter how flawed it may seem to us, probably increases our chances of being happy.  And our habit of looking "on the bright side" may actually work in our favor.

BUT  You knew that was coming, right?  I'm not trying to pull a fast one here.  The implication from the quote above, in my mind, is that people in Russia have one advantage over any American any day of the week.  They are allowed to have a really crappy day.  And say so.  To anyone who happens to have the audacity to ask them about it.  Also they consume a lot of vodka which is killing them and I wouldn't recommend that, but I would like to propose that we indulge in some authenticity and most of all that we give others the gift of being allowed to have really crappy days.  To acknowledge that our pain and sadness are real.  To stop measuring against the suffering of others and just be in our own sadness for a little while.

A blast from my past:  I have a vivid memory of being in second grade, lined up with my classmates singing,

"Be thankful for the good things that ya got.
Oh be thankful for the good things that ya got.
The good things that ya got are for many just a dream.
So be thankful for the good things that ya got."

This was not a song that was a regular part of the Sunday school song line up.  Our teacher made a point of teaching it to us and having us practice it.  I think that she was trying to make a point.  We were going to school on the outskirts of Manila, in the Philippines.  It was pretty much impossible to go anywhere in that city without seeing people who only dreamed of our lives.  I'm guessing that she got tired of hearing kids complain about having to wait in line for the drinking fountain or not having the right kind of pencil when all around us people were wondering what they were going to feed their kids that night or whether the baby would survive the latest round of diarrhea. 

Within six months prior learning that song I had left the country of my birth and all but four of the people I was related to.  It was the first year I was in boarding school.  (I was one of only a few "dorm kids" in that class.)  So it was the first year I wasn't with my parents on my birthday.  The year I learned to pack my stuff for trips home.  The year I learned what it meant to have a room mate.  I was seven years old.  Or maybe eight.

Don't get me wrong.  I had plenty to be thankful for.   I was getting a first rate education.  Every day when I got home from school someone checked my bag.  Every night someone tucked me into bed.  My days started with a hot breakfast and ended with an evening snack.  In truth my worries were few and my blessings were many.

But the message of the song was clear:  Don't complain.  Don't be ungrateful.  We have decided that enough of your needs are being met.  If this is painful or scary or boring or lonely or confusing to you we don't want to hear about it.  Put on your happy face.  Don't make my life uncomfortable by bringing up the downside of this situation.

I took it to heart.    What I learned was that not having a good day, not being grateful for the blessings in my life (pretty much non-stop) was a character flaw.   It didn't keep me from having times when I felt sad or lonely or confused.  Or even from telling other people about it.  It just meant that while I was doing it I was also a failure.  And when I wasn't having a crappy day I was not so much happy as avoiding failure.  Relieved, at the moment, but not really free to experience the joy.

I'm sure this wasn't the only time I got that message.  It wasn't just that teacher or that year.  It was the culture I was in.  Am still in.  And to be fair, I am that responsible oldest child who tries endlessly to live up to everyone's expectations of me.  I know other people who got the same message and said, (essentially) "screw you, I'm miserable right now and I'm going to let you know it."

I realize as an adult how easy it is to send the message of enforced gratefulness to our children. Since he turned five Lenny has been having the year of unmet needs and desires.  He would like me to be his constant playmate and conversation partner.  But I'm busy and exhausted and rarely manage to read him a story or work on a puzzle with him.  He expresses his frustration by saying "You never play with me!"  Of course I want to defend myself.  I point out the latest walk we took or the time I took him to the library.

But that's not the point.  When I really get it right is when I realize that what he's really saying is that he has needs that he feels are not being met.  It doesn't matter that so many of his needs are met all the time.  It's not about the joy he takes in his little brother or the time his dad spends taking him to music class.  It's about that particular moment feeling lonely and boring and crappy.  When I really get it right I say, "I'm sorry you're having a bad day."  Not "look at how it's good" or "I'm doing my best" (both of which I do also sometimes say) but "I see that this is not what you wish it could be."

So that maybe he can learn that it's not his job to be happy.  It's his job to be real.  It's OK to notice when he is not happy.  It's OK to enjoy the times when he is happy and not worry about the next time someone asks "How are you doing?"  Because he's fine.  Or not.  I hope I can learn that lesson too.  And I hope I survive February.  And I'd like a lot less snot in the house.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Forrest Gump Quotes that Are Still Stuck in My Head

Selfies.  If Gump were around today he'd be taking a few, I bet.
 Wow!  It's been twenty years since Forrest Gump came out.  I knew I was old but...  I didn't realize it had been that long until I googled it to make sure I wasn't doing something embarrassing like spelling Forrest wrong.  Which is funny because I could have sworn I watched it in high school, but that would have made it even older.  It's amazing that the movie is still in my head.

I have a British friend who told me once (also years ago now) that she could poke all kinds of holes in the plot of the movie.  I advised her not to.  I told her that the movie was not about a great plot.  It was about walking through iconic moments in American history with a character who unwittingly reveals what they mean to us as a country.  Well I might not have said that exactly, but that's what I meant.  Memory is a funny thing, isn't it?  Maybe it wasn't like that for everyone, but for someone like me who had spent more time out of the country than in it when I watched the movie it spoke to being an American.  For an earlier generation than mine, but one that has had a huge impact on the country.  What would we do without Baby Boomers?

The reason I bring it up is that a few lines from the movie still pop into my head on at least a weekly basis.  And so, in case you need a stroll down memory lane, here they are in no particular order....

"Sometimes there just aren't enough rocks." (Link is to a Youtube video of the scene.  Like the person who posted it, I'm not sure about copyright issues, but if you want to watch it, it's there at the moment.)  It's a very serious scene where Jenny throws rocks at the crumbling house where she was abused as a child.  But she runs out of rocks and throws her shoe before crumpling onto the ground in despair.  Most of the time, though, when it occurs to me I'm thinking of some small commodity that I know won't really solve the problems in my life, but I keep grasping at anyway.  "Sometimes there just aren't enough chocolate covered raisins" for example.

"That's good.  One less thing!"  Forrest says this when he finds out that he doesn't have to worry about money any more because some "fruit" (stock in a new computer company) that his friend invested in turned out to be worth a lot.  Forrest didn't seem to be worried about much in life, but I tend to feel pretty overwhelmed most of the time.  So if the five-year-old tells me he ate his breakfast or I don't have to figure out what to make for supper because we're going out to eat I think, "Hey!  One less thing!"  And then I usually think about all the ways that having tons of money could take the pressure off and make life SO much easier.  Daydreaming happens.

Which brings me to the one that I have, in spite of my "no particular order" claim, been saving for last.  "Shit happens."  OK, I'm pretty sure that this didn't originate with this movie.  But I lived a pretty sheltered life (in some ways) and this is where I heard it first.  (People who know me can testify that profanity is not usually a part of my vocabulary, but it can be very useful, I have discovered.)  Some days I want to adopt this quote as my life motto.  Sure, it can be comforting and empowering to believe that things happen for a reason.  That we can impact the outcomes in our lives or that someone outside the flow of history is pulling strings on our behalf.  But sometimes it's just exhausting.  Sometimes I don't want to know how war or starving children or my latest three day migraine or yet another blowout diaper fit into the grand scheme of things.  Sometimes it's shitty (literally).  And sometimes it just happens.  Fatalism has it's attractions at this point in my life.

"That's all I have to say about that."  Oh looky!  One more!  These quotes just all go together like peas and carrots.  OK, stopping now.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Feminism and Sons: An introduction to My Journey

Not the bear with the offending glasses, but one very much like it.
There's no shortage of material on the internet about feminism.  Possibly there's even a glut.  More than any one person could process in a lifetime.  So now I will add my two cents to the conversation.  I'm on a journey and having started the post I realize that I'm not up to a good, systematic presentation right now.  So I'll just let you know where I started and try to give an idea of where I'm at right now.  Maybe I can even throw out a few conclusions that will help it make a little more sense.  Probably I will revisit the topic.

"They" (whoever they are) say that discussions on the internet don't change people's opinions.  Well, maybe I'm weird, or maybe I was headed in that direction anyway, but my ideas about feminism have changed substantially in the past....five years or so and much of what I think now has been influenced by reading blogs, news articles and more blogs.  Mostly I credit an "IRL" who likes to post links on Facebook and pin them on Pinterest.  Don't despair all you "sharers" with a cause.  Sometimes people pay attention.

So if you had asked me five years ago I probably would have said I was not a feminist.  I thought that people should be treated "fairly" and "equally" but I was OK with men and women having different roles.  (Especially in the church because doesn't the Bible say they should?)  I didn't think much about negative ways that gender roles impact society or individuals.  I had never heard of "rape culture."  I felt that valuing personal modesty was a positive way for me, as a woman, to interact with the world and that understanding the concept might help other women.

My views on all of this are different now.  I see feminism as a movement that promotes awareness of ways that gender roles have been used to limit and define people.  Not as an attempt to undermine or reject the value and beauty of motherhood or "traditional" family systems.  Rather it seems to be an attempt to recognize that a "one-size-fits-all" approach to how anyone of any gender should approach life is going to leave some people marginalized - alone and hurt.  Also, I see something about power dynamics.  But not the "women grabbing for power" that I might have assumed to be the driving motivation in the past.  More the "giving men and women the power to make healthy decisions about their own lives" kind of dynamic.  (I think the Bible says something different than I thought it did about this too, but that's a huge topic for another day.)

I'm still figuring lots of this out.  It seems fairly simple from the personal application end, though.  I don't need to go out and get a job to be a feminist.  I don't have to change how I dress or where I go.  I just need to embrace the idea that who we are is not determined by our gender.

But when it comes to interacting with my sons I feel.... confused..... unprepared... unsure of how to proceed.  Now before someone jumps on me for singling out sons I will say that I only have sons.  I can imagine that if I had daughters I would be facing a similar struggle.  But after some thought I have decided that it is important to say that my children are boys because society does send different messages to boys and girls.  They face different pressures.  The cost of personal expression is different for them and the consequences of not learning some of the lessons of feminism could be quite different.

So.  Why am I so confused?  Some examples:

Clothes.  Baby boys wear blue.  Everybody (it seems) wants to know if the baby is a boy or a girl and they want clothes to clearly tell them this.  I go right along with this demand.  I am not ready for my baby or toddler to deal with the confusion of hearing "Oh, she's so beautiful!"  This happened when Lenny was younger.  Even with what I thought were unambiguous clothing choices.  What can I say?  They were right about the beautiful part.

But why do I care?  It would not be bad if he was a girl.  People we happen to meet in public could interact with my babies and toddlers all day long without knowing their gender and it would not make one single ounce of difference - would it?  Should it?  What message am I sending to my boys by making sure their clothes fit the socially expected standards?

When Lenny got a little older he noticed that girls get the best clothes.  More variety.  More sparkles.  Just plain more.  I acknowledged this.  I get frustrated that retailers seem to totally ignore the fact that little boys might want to have some of the "costume" dressing options that little girls have.  But I do not take my little boy into the girl's clothing section and let him pick out items that he likes.  I am not ready to help him navigate that social swamp.  I would be up to my neck in no time.

On a related note:  grooming.  Lenny hates to have his fingernails cut.  He doesn't like the feeling of the exposed skin that was just covered by nail a few moments before.  We've had some epic battles about this, but now he tries to reason with me.  "You have long fingernails, why can't I?"  Sometimes I tell him that it's because he's little and doesn't always keep his hands clean and that germs can easily live under fingernails.  Other times I tell him the truth from a social point of view "Most people feel that it's OK for girls to have long fingernails, but not boys.  I don't know why.  They just like it better that way."

As a kindergartener Lenny is looking for these types of patterns.  He wants to know what defines girls and boys, women and men.  He wants to know how they relate to each other.  He brings home a picture he drew of a girl in his class who he's "falling in love with."  He tells me that he kissed another little boy in his class on the hand.   He says he wishes he could marry his baby brother.

Lenny has been working his way through a book I bought him - tracing letters, numbers, pictures.  He wants to get to the maze section at the back which looks like the most fun but he feels he should do all the other pages first.  He gets to a page with a cute little bear with glasses.  Somehow the picture communicates the fact that the bear is female.  He says, "I don't like this picture."

I ask, "Why not?"
"Because of the glasses," he tells me.
"What's wrong with the glasses?"
"She shouldn't be wearing glasses.  They aren't pretty."
"But Grammy wears glasses," I remind him.  "Isn't she pretty?"
"Yes," he says, struggling to articulate, "but we don't love her in that way."
"In what way?"
"You know..." He's frustrated.  I should get this.  "Because of being pretty."

It went something like that.  I don't remember exactly.  I was tired and just holding up my end of any conversation was work.  But that's a really normal part of parenting for me right now.  Most often I ask questions, try to find out what he's really thinking.  Sometimes I add more information or a different perspective.  This time I did not say, "People with glasses can be pretty."  Or "we should love people because of who they are, not what they look like."  I just let it go.  I hope that these are lessons that he will learn from watching my husband and I.  I know that what we do will be as important as what we say.

Other examples:  toys, activities, attitudes toward aggression.  Nobody has time to read what confuses me about these topics.  At least not all in one post.  

I feel that like most of parenting I'm probably getting some of this wrong.  I feel pretty confident about a few choices we've made as parents.
  • Like telling our sons that what Mommy does (staying home to take care of them) is just as important as the "work" that Daddy does (being a professional astronomer and university instructor).  
  • We try to accept our sons for who they are and give them opportunities to explore ideas and activities that are interesting to them.  
  • We treat each other with respect.  We are a team.  Sometimes one of us takes the lead, sometimes the other one does.  It depends on who knows more about a specific area - or who is stronger at that specific moment - or who is available.  
  • We have a motto, "Different people like/do different things."  It applies to preferences (like food), culture, and choices people make relating to gender.  

We have one fast rule that I hope will help my sons be men who can make the world a better place while at the same time making them safer:  If you touch someone and they ask you to stop, you have to stop.  All they have to do is ask.  If someone touches you and you want them to stop, they have to stop.  All you have to do is ask.  No reason or explanation is needed.  Just stop.  It seems to me to be part of the feminist message about respecting others and allowing them to decide what works for them.

It's a work in progress.  Society won't change overnight and I can't figure it all out at once.  I'm listening and thinking and reading, though.  If you have thoughts - constructive suggestions - I'd love to hear them. 

Thursday, February 20, 2014

If I had a Food Blog: Mushroom Frittata

Now for something completely different.....

I like to cook.  I often make dishes that are losely based on recipes I've read but unique enough to call my own.   But I don't really measure, so it would be tricky to write recipes.  But I like to take pictures of my cooking because I find food beautiful and I like to remember that my efforts were rewarded with results.  So here is my "recipe" for mushroom frittata - as far as I can remember.


1 T olive oil
cooking spray
1 medium package mushrooms (Really, I forgot to check the size.  Maybe 12 oz?)
salt and pepper to taste
1 C cooked small shaped pasta (I used whole spelt "ears")
1 C cooked peas
5 eggs
1/2 C cottage cheese
1/4 C grated Parmesan cheese

Preheat olive oil in an oven-proof skillet on medium heat.  Spray the skillet with cooking spray also.  Especially if it's not nonstick.  Add cleaned, sliced mushrooms and a little salt and pepper. Cook until the mushrooms have released their moisture and most of it has evaporated.  Add pasta and peas.  Stir and cook for a minute or so.  Add eggs beaten with a fork and mixed with cottage cheese.  Cook, stirring gently until the mixture has started to set but is still loose.  Then put the parm cheese on top and put it under the broiler in your oven for a few minutes - until it's set and starts to brown.  It should smell good and look beautiful!

That's all.  You could use pretty much any quick cooking veggie - zucchini would be good.  You could leave out the pasta or use rice or potatoes instead.  You could include onions or sweet peppers or olives.  Whatever.  I picked my add-ons by checking what leftovers were in the fridge.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Some questions people ask when they find out I'm an MK (and the excruciatingly honest answers) Part 3

So far in this series I've addressed the questions:  "Did you like it?" and "Do/did you want to do it?". The final question I'll be looking at is "Why do people do cross cultural missions?"

To tell you the truth I have only been asked this a few times.  Mostly "believers" don't ask.  But once in particular, when I was talking with an "unchurched" friend about some of the difficulties of living in a developing country she asked "why do it?"  Other times people don't ask outright, but express the opinion that people are better off left with the traditions and beliefs that they have held for thousands of years.

Of course I'm not the best person to answer this type of question since I have decided not to do it.  But I did have a simple and fairly good (I think) answer ready when my friend asked.  "If you believe that you have the most important message in the world you want to share it with people."  That was the whole discussion.  She was not interested in what the message was or why it was important.  I figured if she wanted to know she would ask.

Naturally there's a bigger picture.  Obedience was always a big theme in the discussion of missions when I was growing up.  The Great Commission.  Going to "unreached peoples groups."   My parents were with a group started by a pioneering missionary named Hudson Taylor.  Faith was an important part of the identity of the group.  They had a screening process to decide who to accept and required extensive training.  The goal was "career missionaries,"  although they did also work with short-term individuals and groups.

My parents started preparing for this life (although they didn't initially know exactly what it would look like) when I was an infant.  We went to the Philippines when I was seven years old.  I think that I was in high school when my dad started to talk about the importance of loving the people he was working to reach.  It might not have been a completely new concept but it was a new emphasis as far as I was aware.All of which is to say that in my experience cross cultural missions was not particularly "touchy feelly."

So to sum it up: obedience, faith and love have always seemed to me like the reasons people do cross cultural missions.  All of these are based, in the Evangelical Christian movement on an understanding that the Bible tells us who and how to obey, have faith in and love. 

All of this doesn't really explain, though, why some Christians go to "the ends of the earth" and others don't.  Personally my theory is that it has to do with a combination of personal conviction, life circumstances, personality and desire.  Although in a married couple one spouse may be reluctant and go primarily out of a sense of duty it's my experience that to a certain degree people who do cross cultural missions want to - although they may express this as a sense of calling.

My only issue with any of this (and I guess the reason this post fits into this series) is that the children in a given family may or may not have any of the above mentioned convictions personality or desire (although they obviously do have the circumstances).   In my experience missions is different from other career paths.  It's not something parents do from nine to five Monday through Friday.  It affects every aspect of every family member's life.  It changes the way needs are met.  It creates identities and changes how people look at the world.

Basically, many would argue that this is a spiritual endeavor - an attempt to live out Luke 9:23 where Jesus talks about denying self, taking up one's cross and following him.  But he starts out by saying "Whoever wants to be my disciple..."  It's supposed to be voluntary.  But for children it isn't.

This is getting pretty long, but I just want to end on a positive note.  To those who have felt that "interfering" with another culture is a mistake it has always felt natural to me to (try to) explain the difficult circumstances that most unreached groups are in.  I believe that modern missionaries typically strive to honor what is good in a culture and bring grace and light to destructive elements.  I recently read this article that talks about an academic study showing that modern evangelical missionaries have been agents of positive change in countries around the world.  Turns out that the presence of missionaries tends to lead to more democratic governments and higher rates of education among other improvements.  I find this encouraging.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Some questions people ask when they find out I'm an MK (and the excruciatingly honest answers) Part 2

I'm eating rice crackers and chocolate covered raisins and drinking tea as a sorry substitute for lunch in hopes that I can get this blog post written and stop writing it over and over in my head.  Here goes.

The most common question people ask me when they find out that I grew up in the Philippines because my parents were missionaries there is "Did you like it?"  As I said before, the short answer is no.

Another question they frequently ask, even after I've answered the first one, is "Did/do you ever want to be a missionary yourself?"  And again, the short answer is no.  Not even a little bit.

Sometimes I feel guilty about this.  Missionary kids, after all, can make excellent missionaries.  Terms like "world view" and ideas like currency exchange and culture shock are old hat to us.  We know the jargon.  We may even have connections in our "home" country that will help us raise support.  We're sort of halfway through the door.  So I feel a little like I need to defend my decision.  Or at least explain it.

The first reason why not seems pretty obvious to  me, but I'll say it anyway.  I didn't have a great experience with cross cultural missions to begin with.  I do not like to pack, travel or say good-bye.  I'm not even very good at saying hello.  I associate Evangelical cross-cultural missions with a time in my life when I felt alone and deeply hurt.  I'm pretty sure that I will never be able to do enough therapy to get me to the place where I could put myself in that "system" again.  Certainly as a young adult I was not healthy enough to attempt it. 

Also, on the shallow side, I enjoy the creature comforts afforded by living in the United States.  Seriously, have you seen the road system here?  Used the infrastructure?  Gone grocery shopping?  People complain all the time about the hassles, but they really have no idea what the alternatives are.  Does your home have six foot high walls around the property?  I didn't think so.  Is it kind of a big deal when your power goes out?  Yeah.  I like that about life here.  People are kind of wimpy.

And I am extremely wimpy.  To the point that in college I was actually comforted by the fact that the mission boards I was familiar with at the time would not have accepted me even if I had wanted to go.  I started taking anti-depressants as a young adult.  That would have pretty much ruled me out.  Since then my health has crashed majorly and although I'm currently doing somewhat better I'm nowhere near healthy enough to pack up my family and move across the world.

Then I come to the question of my own faith, which I rarely discuss in casual conversation.  I got a link on Facebook recently to a survey that the school I went to in the Philippines created for former students.  Largely they seemed to be interested in how well they had done in preparing students for "ministry".  I responded pretty positively.  Because by every objective measure I can think of they did a good job.  The Evangelical missionary community around that school lived out what they believed.  They set aside many "controversial" issues in order to work together to maximum effect.  I was shocked by some of the differences when I came back here to the U.S.  I was exposed to a model of ministry that said "Jump in.  Do the important stuff."  It was sort of like a Nike commercial.

But at the end they wanted to know if I am involved in a ministry now.  And I said no.  I made a comment about how my health and caring for my small children prevent it, which is partly true.  Also, though, I struggle with my faith.  Over the years I have hungered to experience God.  Sometimes I have.  Other times, for long periods, I have persevered in spite of a lack of comforting or encouraging experiences in my spiritual life.  More recently I have started to examine some of the truths that I have taken for granted all my life and to think that they do not fit as snugly into the slot of "clearly defined" as I had assumed.  So I haven't had many times in my life where my faith has been one that felt strong enough to propel me across oceans and continents.

It's not that I'm opposed to other people going - although perhaps the reason I'm writing these posts is that I feel that those who do should be realistic about the costs. And it's not that I didn't feel "called."  I don't think that anyone needs a special invitation to serve God - even in radical ways.  But I did not and do not feel able.  And the bottom line is that I do not want to go.

My thoughts on why people become missionaries can be found here.

(In case you need a chuckle now that link in the last paragraph is to a Youtube video of Ron White talking about hunting.  In the first ten seconds or so he says that pretty much exactly - I don't want to go.  He makes it funny.  He can get a little raunchy and I didn't watch the rest of the video just now - seen it in the past though....just so you know.)

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Some questions people ask when they find out I'm an MK (and the excruciatingly honest answers) Part 1

I don't want to write about this.  I avoid thinking about it as much as I can.  But after I wrote a post about being a TCK one of my parent's coworkers sent me a friend request on Facebook and said some kind words about my blog.  Then I was talking to my dad and he mentioned that she has a blog.  So I checked it out. I read what she had to say about her kids growing up as TCKs.  I thought about other friends my age who have taken their families to another country for the purpose of advancing the kingdom.  Mostly, like I usually do (which is why I don't like to think about it) I got a little weepy and a little PTSD-ish.  To try to distract myself from the raw emotion I started mentally composing this blog entry.  As a form of distraction it has so far failed miserably.

The most common question people ask me when they find out that I grew up in another country is:  Did you like it?  And the excruciatingly honest answer is no.  I did not.

Up front I usually blame boarding school which was not a good fit for me.  If the person I'm talking to is not familiar with the Evangelical missions scene I try to give a brief description of the excellent care I got in "family style" dorms and the excellent education I got at a school for Missionary kids.  I'm not trying to run anybody down.  It was just extremely difficult for me to be separated from my parents.  And being cared for by people who did not hold you as a newborn, watch you take your first steps and who will most likely not be at your college graduation or wedding can cause problems.  Lets just call it difficulty communicating - lack of a bond that might otherwise naturally exist.

But thanks to the work of other MKs (Ruth Van Reken is a good example) this type of living situation is much less common these days.  So when I read about my friends taking their kids across borders to that issue is not what tugs at my heart.  The parts of not liking being an MK that I rarely talk about are parts that MKs today still deal with, as far as I can tell. Leaving all the time.  Not growing up near extended family.  The anxiety of making new friends - or the loneliness of not figuring out how.  The discomfort of living someplace hot and crowded and dirty where stepping outside the front door always immediately reminds you that you are not like the people around you.  The strangeness of returning to a place your supposed to be from and not knowing the people or understanding their lives.

It probably sounds shallow.  Especially in light of the fact that the reason we were there was to share the most important message that could possibly be spoken with people who desperately needed to hear it.  But that's the truth.  And the importance of the life was not a comfort to my childhood self.  It was a burden.  I did not choose the sacrifices that made me unhappy.  But asking for them to be removed meant asking my parents to give up a calling from God.  If they made changes that could have made my life easier they would have to sell short their desire to obey the final command that Jesus gave during His time on earth.  So being unhappy felt like being selfish.

I've talked a little about this with parents who are becoming missionaries, but they usually don't say much.  I think that they are thinking "We will do it differently.  We will do better.  Our children are different.  They will be happy.  We've read the books.  We have a plan."

I hope so.  I hope it works.  The intensity of the writing and attention focused on MKs today is probably good.  But it also tells me that this is still a stressful life for children as well as parents.  It's a reality that isn't going to change.  Moving is a stressful life event.  Moving to another country - moving back and forth between countries - is even more stressful.

Another argument that I've heard and that I still make inside my head is that there were benefits to that life that few others have.  The breadth of experience and insight, the relationships that run deep.  The lifelong appreciation of hot running water.  These are not lightly gained and are parts of myself that I would not want to lose.  Please don' t get me wrong.  Some things about the Philippines I love.  I have fond memories both specific and general of my life there.  My life today is richer because of my experiences growing up.

In our discussions when I was growing up and as an adult we also talked about the fact that any choice a parent makes has implications for their children.  Parents who stay close to extended family and work at more conventional jobs may find that their children feel bored and trapped and long for adventure.  And certainly there's a lot being said these days about the dangers of making our whole lives about our kids - the unrealistic ideas this gives them about their relationship with the world. 

But the bottom line for me is that it's an extreme lifestyle choice.  Who knows if I would have been happier if my parents had made a more conventional choice.  Certainly I would not have been happier if I had spent my life knowing that I was the reason they could not do what seemed most important to them.  But I guess that's the question that still lingers in my mind:  Was I less important than those they went to reach?  Was my (possibly fleeting) happiness sacrificed for their (opportunity of) eternal salvation?  Are other children in a similar position?  Can this be changed?

  Other questions:  Did/do you want to be a missionary?  Why would someone do that?  I've probably touched on these.  Hopefully I can cover them in more depth in another post.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Valentine's Day Funny

Apparently love is in the air at kindergarten.  Lenny came home with this picture that he drew of himself and a girl in his class "falling in love."

Then he showed me this picture.  I know what you're thinking.  But you're wrong.

This was drawn by the object of his affections.  They are being chased by the police.  I don't know why.

The Good Baby

I wrote this a few months ago.  I'm re-posting it onto this site in case it's helpful to someone. 

It happens without fail some time in the course of babyhood and has already happened once in Linus's life.  Someone who sees this sweet little baby, finds him charming and wants to be friendly and find out more about him asks "Is he a good baby?"  I pause just a little.  People who know me probably recognize a "look" on my face.

When Lenny was a baby my standard response was "The best kind."  If they asked what kind that was I'd say "human."  The most recent time, since it was someone I knew a little better and was having a longer conversation with than you'd expect to have say, in the grocery store, I said, "I usually think of babies as 'easy' and 'not easy.'  And no, he's not an easy baby.  I don't seem to have easy babies."

Now how I can really know what kind of babies I have a few weeks into the second one is a question for a different discussion.  The point now is why it bothers me when a kind, friendly community member wants to know if my baby is "good."  And since my "not easy" baby is waking up with a series of screams,  grunts and writhing gestures I'll hurry and try to answer it.

First of all, I think that what they really mean is "Does he sleep and eat on a regular (and not too frequent) schedule?  Can you put him down when he's awake and walk away?  Is he comforted quickly when he does get fussy?"  What I believe they are really asking is if he is an "easy" baby.

But what they said was "good baby."  Which implies to me that if my baby nurses every two hours (max), wakes up even more frequently than that if I do something so strange as lay him down by himself, or screams almost every time he needs to move his bowels or pass gas, that he has already achieved a below average score on the "Good Baby Evaluation."  This is not, it seems, what any woman is hoping for when she pees on a stick and holds her breath while waiting for one line or two to appear in the little window.

Well, I'll admit that a baby who sleeps would be amazing and definitely easier!  But my baby's job is not, unfortunately, to make my job easy.  My baby is busy growing and developing and working his way through all the stages of babyhood in an amazingly short span of time.  He needs sleep and food and comfort, but unfortunately rarely on a schedule that's convenient for me.  That doesn't make him a "not good" baby.  Just a "not easy" baby.

My thinking on this has been influenced by a book called Our Babies Ourselves by Meredith F. Small.  It talks about how different cultures view and care for babies and small children.  I read it while I was pregnant with Lenny and before I knew what kind of babies I would have.  I read that other cultures hold or wear babies instead of laying them down - and how much less they cry per day than babies in American culture.  I discovered that research shows biological benefits for babies who sleep in the same bed as an adult (although I had no intention of trying it myself).  Even the role of a baby in society is viewed differently, as it turns out, by different cultures.  (Small has a website where she blogs about children and culture.  Good reading also.)

One study described in the book really stuck with me.  Parents in a conflict-torn area were asked to rate their baby's temperament, as I remember it, on a scale from more easy-going to more "difficult."  After a period of time the researchers returned to the area to do follow-up, but not too surprisingly they had trouble finding many of their original subjects.  When they did find the parents sometimes the child had not survived.  It turned out that the babies who lived were the ones that had been rated as "difficult."  Squeaky wheel babies were better at making it in tough situations.

So when someone asks me if my baby is "good" part of me wants to say "Yes!"  He's very good, after all, at reminding me that he relies on me to meet his most basic needs.  If rebel forces were hiding out in the bushes waiting to raid the village for already scarce food supplies he would be the one to make sure that his mommy remembered that she needed to get enough to eat so she could make milk for him.  If wild animals were lurking in the darkness beyond the edge of the fire he would be the one to make sure that at least one adult was awake often enough to scare the creatures away.  And he won't be the child who lays quietly in his car seat on top of the car while a parent who is tired and distracted drives away.  He will already be screaming at the top of his lungs.  He is good at being a baby.

Now you may argue that in modern life these "skills" are not so useful and may, in fact, put the baby at risk.  I agree.  But it doesn't seem useful to me to try to change the way my baby is hardwired.  It makes more sense to think about how I can change my life and my attitudes in order to care for him and meet his needs.

Before you say it, I know that I need to take care of myself too.  And believe me, I'm doing my best.  But I'm not sure that responding to my baby when he cries, or sleeping with him in my bed (yeah, I changed my mind about that one) or holding him instead of doing something else really leaves me more tired or stressed than I would be otherwise.  If you look back over the course of this blog you'll see that I'm mostly tired.  And if you talk to the parents of new babies you'll find that they're mostly tired and stressed.  It's hard.  And sometimes I struggle with feeling like it would be easier if I were just doing it "right."  But whether I'm getting it right or not I feel sure that my baby is very good at his job.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Pinterest for the Win: Valentine's Day

Pinterest has kind of gotten a bad reputation.  It seems like every third or fourth blog post I read makes some mention of how Pinterest is causing us to have unrealistic expectations.  Or to feel that we are inadequate.  Or to send our kids to school with way too much candy on Valentine's Day.

I found this image using Pinterest.
 But I will admit, I'm kind of addicted.  I even love the madness.  Like this site that collects crazy pins (warning:  some of these are impossible to unsee).  Or this mom who decided to bring pins back into the realm of everyday reality. (Although somehow I failed to pin this and had to use Google to find it!)  And finally this site that tests out pins to see if they actually work - often with disastrous results.

And I don't let those fancy pictures fool me or make me feel bad about myself because a) I'm pretty realistic about what I can do, b) I've done some stuff I feel pretty good about and c) I know that my normal day is likely to look different from someone else's best day and I'm fine with that.  It's our own beautiful life.

So these paper beads modeled by Lenny? Well I may have seen better focused or composed pictures on Pinterest, but the actual necklace is made by me from paper he painted. Pinterest can't make me feel bad about it.

Also this painting, created by Lenny and I on the back deck, which I later turned into paper beads (I'm sure I'll make them into some awesome jewelry some day).  Actually, this was my very own original idea, but if you go searching around Pinterest for ideas of stuff to do with your kids you will find something very similar.

Sometimes we don't even need a website.  Really, what you can't do with junk mail, cotton balls and other random stuff from the recycle bin probably isn't worth mentioning!  Lenny took this amazing creation to preschool at the beginning of the year and they put it in a frame because they are geniuses about stuff like that. 

So getting back to the present.  Valentines day is coming.  Last year we made "crazy crayons" and I did use Pinterest to figure out how to do it.  I'm afraid I didn't take pictures because I was pregnant at the time and felt like crap and by the time the project was done I wanted to burn it all down and never remember it again.  It worked though!  I didn't have little heart-shaped molds, and I didn't print the clever little sayings because we don't have a working printer, but Lenny and I had a creative project to work on and I (just barely) avoided losing my mind.

So this year I needed something simpler.  I found this site with Valentines that don't have candy.  We went to the dollar store and got finger pointers that are also glow sticks.  I cut out some paper hearts and wrote "You make my heart GLOW Valentine!" on them (I'm not a martyr, we just don't have a working printer).  Lenny is in to process of writing his classmate's names on them and signing them.

Granted, the original idea looked like this:

And my execution looks like this (with a little tape added to secure the glow finger extension):

And involved this:

And this:

 But like I said, it's my life and I'm keeping it real.  Thanks Pinterest!

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

My (Mommy) Shout Out to the Public Library

More winter weather.  We didn't even make it to church Sunday due to an unfortunate combination of 5 inches of snow, a cold and the exhausting prospect of me getting both boys into and out of the van myself.  But I did make it to the "Legopalooza" at the library in the afternoon with Lenny.  We haven't gotten to the library much lately between nap times and school and life in general.  But I haven't forgotten how much I love it.  If you have kids under five and especially if you are a stay at home parent and you have a public library within a half hour drive you should check it out.  It could change your life.  Literally.  Going to mine changed ours.  In some really good ways.

A little backgound:  Lenny gave up his morning nap WAY too early.  I tried looking it up but couldn't find the exact month - possibly as early as 14 months.  So we started going to the library in the mornings.  Our library, as it turns out, has story time for toddlers one morning a week and for preschoolers another. We went to both.  Lenny LOVED stories and could sit through pretty much anything.  It became part of our regular routine and had, among others, the following advantages (some of which I never would have dreamed of):

  • Lenny got to play with (or beside) other kids his age.  We didn't really know any at the time, so this was his first chance. 
  • We checked out TONS of books.  Lenny LOVED stories.  Did I mention that?  He wasn't walking yet, so he would push them across the floor to me on his knees.  The great thing was that this meant that I wasn't reading the same stories over and over again.  In fact, mostly once was my limit.  The library was also pretty understanding about some ripped pages in those early days.
  • We discovered Thomas the Train toys.  Whether this was an advantage or not probably depends on who you ask.
  • I got to know other moms.  This even led to getting to know a whole group of moms who regularly hung out for play dates.  Most of those families have moved away from the area but one is still here and are some of our closest friends. 
  • We made friends with the library staff.  Naturally this is going to vary from one place to the next, but our library?  Awesome staff.  They know about books and kids and they want kids to have fun at the library.
  • We got to be in the city parade.  No kidding.
  • We were both (mostly) on our best behavior.  Lenny seemed to believe, for what felt like a LONG time, that there was a three foot tether between him and me.  He hated to have me out of his sight.  This made things easier at places like the library.  Also he was very aware of social situations and mostly seemed to want to figure out what he was supposed to do.  
  • Less screen time was had by everyone.  I was not tempted to zone out playing the latest computer game, checking email or surfing Facebook.  Lenny did sometimes play on the library's spiffy computers, but at leas the wasn't just watching mind melting drivel.
  • We spent more time outside.  We only had one car at the time, so when the weather allowed we usually walked to and from the library.  Our stroller and then our wagon became familiar sights at the library.  We could tote a lot of books with them.
So of course times have changed.  Preschool and now kindergarten have reduced the need to find times to play with other kids.  Lenny gets fewer stories read to him now that Linus is around.  But he's learning to read himself and brings books home from school that are just right for that endeavor.  But Linus is growing fast.  His turn for story time at the library is probably right around the corner.

Everybody's different.  But it's worth a try, right?  Free and fun.  What could be better?

Did I mention Kapla blocks?  No I did not.  Just one more fun feature of our public library!

Sunday, February 9, 2014

My Mantra. Remember. (Again)

This is a post I wrote earlier this year on my other blog.  It fits right in with what I wrote about the "remembering self" yesterday so I'm re-posting it here.  I should spiff it up and add some links, but there dad is sick and we had four (at least) more inches of snow last night and didn't make it to church and both boys are pile up on top of me on the bed so in the interest of actually getting it done I'm just changing the names and posting it as it is.  Maybe I'll add the links later.....

The other day Lenny was playing with Linus and he said, "Mommy, I'm being you.  I'm getting drool on me!"  I didn't get a chance to write it down right then, but I remembered.  At least for a few days.

I read a "mommy blog" today by someone who's kids are older.  She was saying she wished she had worried less and enjoyed her kids more when they were little.  I thought, "I wonder if she really remembers what it was like."  So intense.  So exhausting.  Enjoy doesn't really seem like the right word.  Maybe treasure is a better word.

I want to remember.  And I want to treasure this time when my children are so small and so dependent.  But it's turning my brain into jelly.  Today I couldn't remember if yesterday was the first time this year I'd left the house.  Turns out it wasn't.  Most significant, probably, since we found out that Linus has "hand, foot and mouth disease."  In his case this means that he has a broken blister on the roof of his mouth - near the back.  Most likely why he's been sleeping so poorly and why I thought he had a sore throat.

I know from when Lenny was a baby that it's impossible to remember everything.  New experiences and sensations and interactions flood in at an amazing rate and wipe the old ones away.  And it's hard to treasure the moments because the exhaustion, the chaos, the thousand and one demands and needs and details crowd in.  At the very moment that I'm thinking, "This is such a beautiful moment" I'm also thinking, "I need sleep so bad it hurts and I'm hungry and the baby needs a new diaper and Lenny has had WAY too much screen time this week and could someone just get me out of here for a few minutes?!?"

But it's like a mantra in my head.  It's why I take pictures and blog.  I want to remember.  I want to see that it's beautiful and find the pleasure that's in it.  I want to treasure it.

It's laying in the bed in the half-dark with the baby straddling my stomach.  And he leans forward and rivets his eyes on mine and soundlessly chomps his mouth open and shut like he's imparting the secret wisdom of the universe.  Remember.

It's his soft hands that smell slightly sour and have razor sharp edges on the corners of the fingernails searching for my face and grabbing handfuls of it when he's upset or nursing and about to fall asleep.  It hurts but my heart knows that it's good that I am what he reaches for when he needs comfort.  Remember.

It's the first time he sees his dad and throws his weight over in his direction.  The first time he cries when a toy he was playing with falls down.  First tooth, roll over, solid food, Christmas.  First toy he baptizes with drool, first jammies he grew out of, first blankets he snuggled under.  So many firsts already and so many to come.  I realized today that babies start out as only a promise.  Then they encounter the world and they grow and are formed.  And we are here.  A part of it.  And we see it.  We can treasure it.  And remember.

It's his own little way of interacting with the world.  It's the way he blows air through his lips or gargles his saliva.  The way he lights up when he sees his big brother, snuggles with his Grammy or plays patty-cake with his great Granny.  The way he stirs in his sleep, opening his mouth and turning his head in search of comfort.  It's the way he babbles and sings at home but is quiet and watchful when we go out.  The way he protests if he can't see what the other people in the room are doing.  The way he pumps his legs when he's held upright.  The way he looks at the back of his hands or pulls his feet toward his face to get a better look.  Notice these.  Remember.

It's the physical changes that come so fast in the first year.  Starting so bald with invisible eyelashes and brows that grow in red.  That little strip of thicker hair in the middle of his head that makes him look like a combination of a rebellious teen and a balding forty-something with a bad comb-over.  Those jowly cheeks and chubby thighs.  That rolled over ear from laying so long on it in my belly.  The soft, dented skull that turns rock hard.  The toothless grin that gradually fills in.  Watch this.  Remember.

It's how I keep from getting swallowed up by the intensity - by the fatigue and relentless needs and identity swallowing crush - of being a mom.  It's how I get through these totally overwhelmed and tearful days.  It's my mantra.  Remember.

It's trying to write a blog post and stopping a dozen times because he's bored and needs another clean diaper and is getting tired.  It's leaving him on the changing table to get it done because for some reason he's much more patient there.

So much in these early months and years.  So much to notice and treasure and remember.  Once it's over I'll say "It was gone in a flash."  But I think I'll also always say, "It's such an intense time."  I want to remember.  I want it to be part of what I treasure and take pleasure in through every other stage of his life.  Maybe I will.  Maybe I can.  For now I just have to get him off the changing table because he's run out of patience.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

In Which I Solve the Mystery of Mommy Blogging

I'm sitting on the bed in the clothes I've been wearing for the past thirty-six hours.  The baby in sitting on my lap with (just a little) sweet potato on his face.  He needs a clean diaper but you don't need to be seven months into the second baby to know that it's good to wait a few minutes on that one.  I have a head ache that pain killers and a sort of almost decent night of sleep barely touched.  I'm typing with one hand.

Why do I do this?  Why do I compose blog entries (in my head) while trying to get back to sleep at three in the morning or on my way home from dropping Lenny off at school?  Well besides the fact that it's pretty impossible to compose blog entries while on the way to drop him off because of all the questions and comments coming from the back seat. 

I figure a couple of different reasons work pretty well.  In more or less equal parts I....
  • want to hear my grown up voice.
  • am trying to impose some order on what otherwise feels pretty chaotic.
  • want to remember this beautiful, crazy, super-intense time.
  • like to keep in touch with family members.
  • like attention and affirmation from the folks in my digital community.
About this last point:  I'm not proud.  I'll admit that being a stay-at-home mom can be lonely and thankless.  In the midst of a day of "mommy look at this" I sometimes like other people to look at me too.

Also, this is not my main "mommy blog."  I have another one that I started way back in the days when Lenny was a baby.  It's not a "how to" or a food blog or an advice or opinion blog.  It's just the story of our family.  And I wasn't really thinking about internet security when I started it, so it has lots of personal details about our family in it.  I sort of try to keep it hidden.  I may end up needing to password protect it. This blog, that you are reading right now, is an experiment.  An attempt to see if I can write "stuff" that a broader audience will be interested in.  Also, I'm trying to see if I have a "voice" - something I really want to write about.  Or something I'm good at writing about.  So anything goes at the moment, pretty much.

Obviously I'm not alone in feeling drawn to blogging.  I've been reading "mommy blogs" lately and there are literally thousands to choose from.  Groups of moms blogging together.  Moms with famous twitter feeds.  Networks of moms who pool ideas about what to write about.  There are sentimental, humorous, practical, honest, encouraging, self deprecating, tragic and triumphant blogs.  And of course many that have various of those elements at different times.  Just lots of blogs.

So do they all have the same motive I do?  Well without asking...any of them I would like to suggest that most likely they do.  Also I think that we all share the following motive, which I hadn't really considered until I read a couple of articles pretty much back-to-back and was hit with an epiphany. 

First of all I read this article about a Danish writer who is inspired by a Swedish film maker who said that seeking out solitude is important for writers because (my summary) writing is tumultuous enough without adding a bunch of drama. He said he felt like he contained "too much humanity" and it was squeezing out of him.  But this quote at the beginning of the article really grabbed my attention:

"Conventional wisdom tells us pain is good for art. Genius, the logic goes, is best drunk, unhappy, destitute, scarred by war or parenting, buoyed by illegal drugs or Merck."

"Scarred by war or parenting"?!?  I love it.   I don't know if I would write more or better if I had solitude.  I doubt it.  I actually had a TON of solitude for several years and mostly wrote tortured journal entries that I do not want to reread myself let alone share.  At the moment the humanity doesn't have to squeeze out of me like a defective tube of toothpaste.  It's swirling around me like....water about to rush out of a toilet bowl?  No, that's not right.  Wind in a tornado?  Maybe better.  It's definitely swirling around me like something that makes a big mess and leave me feeling breathless and traumatized.  And I don't know if it's producing some kind of genius, but it does compel me to write stuff down.

But why this story of my crazy, normal, beautiful and monotonous mommy life?  Why not make something up?  Is it just because it's what I know?  Or maybe the reasons listed above are enough.  But then I found another one which is more elegant and might just go right to the heart of the matter.

I saw an interview of Jennifer Senior, the author of All Joy and No Fun: The Paradox of Modern Parenthood a few days ago.  It looked interesting.  She talks about why parenting has become such an intense emotional experience.  How we see our children as precious even as they have (historically) lost any economic "value."  Then I saw this review which had more detail and this great quote (I'm quoting the article, which quotes the book.):

Senior draws on the psychologist Daniel Kahneman’s distinction between the “experiencing self” that exists in the present moment and the “remembering self” that constructs a life’s narrative. “Our experiencing selves tell researchers that we prefer doing the dishes — or napping, or shopping, or answering emails — to spending time with our kids. . . . But our remembering selves tell researchers that no one — and nothing — provides us with so much joy as our children. It may not be the happiness we live day to day, but it’s the happiness we think about, the happiness we summon and remember, the stuff that makes up our life-tales.”
 That's it!  I write partly because the swirl of humanity compels me.  But mostly, I write - I "mommy blog" to become the "remembering self."  It's not just that I want to remember at some distant time in the future when the house is quiet and clean (ha!) and my little ones have outgrown my loving arms.  No.  I need to remember now.  I need to become the rememberer.  The one who finds joy in my children, who sees the beauty and the humor and the love in our every day crazy-making lives.  I need to find the self that is not overwhelmed, tired and just about fed up and listen to her for a little while.  I need her to tell me that the first sleepy smiles of the day, imprinted on my still-sleep-starved brain though they are, are precious.  I need her to point out the funny, ironic, and amazingly intelligent sayings of my children.  I want to see how they are sweet and compassionate and full of exciting potential.  I need, for a few moments, to become the one who sees my life that way.  As joyful, satisfying and something that I love.

Mystery solved.  That's why I do it.  And I think probably a few other "mommies" blog for that reason too.

Friday, February 7, 2014

Faith and Science: Some Details of the Big Bang

I wasn't going to do a follow-up on my creation vs. evolution post.  It went pretty well.  I had a few discussions on Facebook and everyone was friendly.  Plus, I don't have a whole lot more information on the topic to enlighten you with.  But then I saw this post on Buzzfeed which is described as a series of questions by self-identified creationists for Bill Nye.  Some of the questions make me a little bit crazy.  Maybe I can add something to this discussion.

I'm not a scientist.  But I am married to one.  An astrophysicist to be precise.  A Christian man of great conviction and integrity who studies the far reaches of the universe and teaches a class about a topic called "cosmology."  It's about what we know about the universe - also how, throughout human history we have conceptualized and sought to understand it.  Including origins.  Including the"Big Bang Theory" which is questioned in the above post.

Early in our marriage the pastor of the church my husband and I were part of at the time decided to preach a sermon on The Big Bang Theory.  The problem was that he didn't check with the person in his midst who actually had read the scientific papers on the theory and knew what science does and does not claim on the topic.  In the conversations that followed I learned a few facts.

First of all, scientists do start with a few assumptions which some who read and believe in the Bible may disagree with.  Scientists believe that we are not in a special time or place in the universe.  They make their conclusions based on the idea that the natural laws that we observe here and now have applied and will apply in all time and space.

The questions in the Buzzfeed post and some questions and statements I've heard in person from Christians make me think that some people have some misconceptions about these assumptions.  For one thing, people often assume that because scientists only consider the physical universe that they are ruling out the existence of any other reality.  This may sometimes happen, but it is not necessary for someone to take science seriously or to use it as a tool to understand the universe.  Science is a system - a way of observing and exploring the world in order to understand it better.  It values direct, quantifiable observations and rejects appeals to authority.  It sticks to a specific set of knowledge and answers certain types of questions.  It does not comment on even the possibility of the existence of a god who does not exist in the physical realm.

"But," you may say, "I have seen evidence of God all around me.  I see the beauty of a sunset, the wonder of a baby's birth, the amazing complexity of the genetic code.  How can these things be random?  They speak of a mind - a creator."  Maybe so, but until they find some way of directly observing that mind scientists will continue to slog along by observing with the tools they have now.

Second, the Big Bang Theory is based on direct observations and measurements.  Since light takes time to travel to earth astronomers are looking both at distant places and past times in the universe. Assuming that the principles they observe now apply uniformly allows them to draw conclusions about what happened in the past and what will happen in the future.

Third, "Big Bang" is not a very good name.  It implies an explosion of something into something else, which is what we always experience now.  But the theory actually describes a movement of something - matter, energy, space - into....nothing.  I can't really get my head around that.

Fourth, so far, scientist do not have an explanation for where the stuff came from.  And by definition the theory only describes what happens starting from an extremely (astronomically) small portion of time after the movement actually starts.  There is still mystery.  There is room for a creator.

Fifth, astronomers are not so heavily invested in this particular model of how the universe works that they can't admit that previous observations might have led to incorrect conclusions.  Is the expansion of the universe speeding up or slowing down?  The understanding of this question has completely reversed in the past couple of decades.  This does not mean that scientists have no idea what they are talking about.  It means that they make conclusions based on the data they have and as the data becomes more complete their conclusions can be more accurate.  This is fine because they are not asking you to believe anything.  They are trying to understand.

When we get closer to home science does make conclusions and predictions that we end up acting on.  That is a more complicated question and it has to do with the body of evidence - observations and experiments are repeated by different scientists and in different ways.  It gets messy.  But right now I'm sticking to the implications of this one area.

So what's the point?  The Big Bang Theory does not jive with a literal interpretation of the Biblical creation narrative.  It points to a time period much longer than a day during which the universe changed in order to reach the point we observe now.  But scientists who study the theory are not trying to disprove the existence of God. They are using the tools they have to make conclusions about the universe.

Is it possible to interpret scripture in a way that fits with the current scientific evidence?  Possibly.  But personally I don't feel the need to do that.  That's probably a topic for a different post.  Could God have created a universe that only appears to have an incredibly long "lifespan"?  Possibly.  But I don't understand why He would do that.  Could the nature of time have changed at some point?  Possibly, but if so it would most likely have left some kind of evidence which may, at some point be detectible.  The nature of time is something that physicists are extremely interested in.   

Ultimately I believe that we (the Evangelical Christian community) should really take a look around us.  The Bible is not a scientific text.  Science is not a religion.   Using our senses and intellects to observe the world is not a threat to God.  Believing that God ultimately is responsible for the existence of the world is not a threat to science.  But closing our minds to what we might observe because we need the facts to conform to an idea we already have....that isn't consistent with what I believe about the Bible or God.  And it isn't what I see happening in science.  I'd love it if we didn't do that. I'd love it if we decided to use the tools we have and embrace the exciting challenge of learning as much as we can about the world.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Practical Solutions to Parenting Controversies: Shaming

To start with, I realize this title is confusing.  The controversy is shaming, not the solution.  My idea is that this could be a series on my blog:  "Practical Solutions to Parenting Controversies" followed by the specific controversy.  We'll see.  This one is intended to be mostly funny.  Although it's a serious issue and I have a problem with taking myself very seriously.  I mean I tend to do it too much.  Writing clearly is not as easy as it looks.

But the title does kind of make a point.  Shaming would not be OK as a way to deal with other parents when discussing parenting controversies.  Sometimes, though, some people think it's an OK way to help a child learn a valuable lesson.  Like the mom in this article who made her son wear a sign when he got caught smoking pot.  Her argument for doing this is simple.  She wants to convince her son and possibly some other kids that doing pot is not a good idea.  The problem is, that what she is probably convincing them is to be more careful not to get caught.  Plus, the "experts" quoted in the article do not recommend it.  Also this blogger feels that it will do terrible  emotional damage whether done "in real life" or on Facebook or some other digital format.

I think I understand why some parents do it, though.  They are concerned about their children's behavior and are hoping that peer pressure will help them be motivated to make better choices.  I just doubt that it will actually work.

Then there's another type of parenting behavior which might fall into the shaming category - I'm not sure.  That's taking pictures of kids when they are getting in trouble (the famous one of two kids in the same over-sized shirt as a "consequence" for having fought too much) or when they are having a meltdown.  Some bloggers also feel that this is extremely disrespectful to children and is likely to erode the bond of trust between parents and children.  Others, like the "Reasons My Son is Crying" guy have made taking pictures of kids having meltdowns into a form of entertainment.  He argues that showing the child the picture can help resolve the meltdown and that it's OK as long as you are loving and present.  It helps parents deal with the stress of meltdowns to see the humor in it, some would say.  I found a blogger who thinks that taking a picture means that the parent is not present and that it's disrespectful, but I wonder about this.  When I have offered all the understanding and support I can muster my child is often still a sodden, howling wonder and all I can do is stand back and try to hold on to my sanity.  I kind of think that taking a picture is not such a bad option at that time.  I have, in fact, done it.  But I don't usually post these.  I do think it might be a moment that my child might not want the world to see.  Unless they're too young to care.  I don't know.

Personally, I have plenty of opportunities to try to balance the ability to see the humor in the situation with the need to offer support and comfort while helping my child manage his emotions.  Lenny has, just in the past couple of days, cried because:  he discovered that our old broken down rocking chair that has been exiled to the attic is never coming back, he wanted to build a new "structure" out of Legos but would have to take an old one apart first and (extremely loudly this morning) because his dad discovered that he (Lenny) was getting dressed, so the surprise was ruined.  I am, at this very moment, broadcasting these moments of tragedy in my child's life across the internet.  I just hope that one day he will not look with mortification on this evidence that he was once a highly emotional five-year-old.

So there are some grey areas.  I'm not going to be able to clear up this controversy.  But I do have a wonderful, practical solution!  If you really feel that shaming is needed in the world just shame your pets!  It's pretty easy.  All you have to do is write down a description of your pet's bad behavior and take a picture of the sign next to the pet.  If you want you can include some evidence of the bad behavior, but that's really not necessary.  You could, in fact, make something up.  No one will really know.  Then you can post it to Facebook or Instagram or whatever.  No one gets hurt and everyone is entertained.  And if, like me, you don't have pets, feel free to enjoy the pet shaming that other people have graciously provided on the internet.

This is just one example I came up with by doing a quick Google search.  They are not hard to find.  The beauty of this one is that there is a car seat in the background.  Lots of people manage to have pets and children at the same time.  I am not, at this point, one of those people.

Our family discussed this during supper last night.  Lenny is very much hoping to one day get a fish as a pet.  When he does he feels confident that he will find a way to shame it.  Everybody has to have dreams.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Why I Will Not Be Watching the Evolution/Creation Debate Tonight

 photo credit: Mike Shaheen via photopin cc

So while I'm scrolling through my Facebook feed this morning I come across a couple of different posts reminding me that tonight is the night that Bill Nye "The Science Guy" will be debating Ken Ham of the Creation Museum.  Mostly they are from Christians who seem to be hoping that this will finally be the time that the creation narrative gets it's proper due and evolution gets put in its place.  I have been seeing posts from some of the more progressive Christian bloggers I follow commenting on this.  They are more likely to be hoping that the likeable Nye will present his case in a way that will at least challenge Creationists to consider the options.

OPTIONS!?! Where am I going with this?  Wait.  Back up.  Progressive Christians?  Where are they progressing to, you ask?  Hang on.  This is all too much for one blog post that I can type up between changing diapers and ferrying kids to school.  I should probably stick to focusing on doing those things while I'm actually doing them, but instead I'm thinking about how I can make this important point about the Evangelical church in America and how we view science and how changing that could have such a positive impact on our ability to follow Christ.  Focus.

The point I want to make is that I believe that we are wasting our energy setting up this "science vs. Christianity" divide and using evolution as a test to determine which one comes out on top.  Neither science nor the Bible demand this.

Science first.   Ken Ham says, in this interview with CNN, "Our public schools arbitrarily define science as explaining the world by natural processes alone."  I'm not sure why he says this is arbitrary, but if he means that science is the study of what can be observed (and manipulated) in the natural world then I agree.  But somehow he then jumps to the following conclusion:  "In essence, a religion of naturalism is being imposed on millions of students."  Wait.  Is science being defined as the only way to understand the world?  Are students being taught that any question can be answered by observing the natural world?  If so then he's right that "They need to be taught the real nature of science, including its limitations."

But lets not lay this at the door of the study of evolution.  The belief that science can answer all our questions and that nothing that can't be observed in the natural world actually exists is philosophical and can't be proven, shown to be false or even properly commented on using observation or manipulation of the natural world.  It has as little to do with science as the belief that God exists.  But it is not necessary to hold this view if science in order to study evolution.  Evolution uses fossil records, DNA and direct observation to examine how species have changed over time.  It stands (or falls) on the strength of these observations.  Allowing for evolution does not necessitate discounting the supernatural world.

Which leads pretty much directly to the question, "Doesn't believing the Bible require us to abandon evolution?"  I believe that it does not.  Our pastor spent a couple of months teaching about the Genesis creation account.  Obviously I'm not going to be able to flesh out the whole argument here, but the essence, as I see it, is this:  The Bible should be understood first through the eyes of the audience for which it was originally intended.  Ancient people were not trying to answer the question "Where did all this stuff come from?"  They wanted to know "What is the purpose and function?"  Essentially, "Why is all this stuff here?  How does it relate to God?"

This does not mean that the account couldn't also address the question of how the stuff got here, but it means that it probably isn't intended to.  Ancient people would have most likely assumed that God made the stuff (if they had ever considered the question) but the Genesis account was not meant to tell us how.  The Bible is not a science text book.  It uses language that is figurative.  We no longer believe that it's necessary yo hold that the sun actually moves through the sky in order to take a proper view of passages that talk about the sun rising or setting.  We can take scripture seriously without demanding belief in a seven day, nothing to everything creation sequence.

This is not an argument for (or against) "guided evolution."  The point is not whether or not God was involved at any point in bringing matter into existence or in shaping it into the forms we now observe.  The point is that spending our time arguing about whether God is right or science is right is futile.  They can both be right.  They are not enemies.

So how does this help us to be better followers of Christ?  On reflection I realize that this probably deserves a blog post of it's own.  In short, Jesus did not, while he was on earth, allow himself to be swept up in arguments that were not central to his goals.  What is the greatest command?  They wanted to trip him up, but he was focused.  Love the Lord your God.  And love your neighbor as yourself.

I believe that this debate distracts from the real goal of Christians to model Christ's love.  Not because the truth is not important but because the friction - the conflict - isn't real.  We don't have to deny the existence of God to take science seriously and we don't have to deny the validity of the study of evolution to take God - or the Bible - seriously.