Friday, December 23, 2011

Merry Christmas

A re-post from a piece I wrote last year:

Recently our local newspaper did a story on a recent happening at Focus on the Family--the organization is rating local shops on how "Christian" they are. They are having participants from around the country chime in and share their judgment (friendly, negligent, or offensive) of particular stores based on how they are greeted, how the store does its marketing, and their signage, etc. If they say, "Merry Christmas" they are rated high, if they say other holiday greetings, they are rated low.

This story saddens me so much I don't even know where to begin. But I feel I must.

As a Christian who should be rooting for the "home team," I know this sounds harsh. But my take on the Bible does not command me to cheer on my "home team" as much as it challenges me to love non-believers, or the "other" team, if you will. And because of my Jewish friends, my atheist friends, my Mormon friends, my Muslim friends, and my "other" friends, this throws my witness and my testimony about who Jesus Christ and his followers are back a few thousand feet.

And speaking of going back, let's root ourselves in a little history, shall we? Only a few hundred years ago, the Puritans and many other Christian groups in England, outlawed the celebration of Christmas because they did not consider it a truly religious holiday, and thought it promoted too many secular ideas. Many also realized that its roots were in pagan rituals, celebrating the Winter Solstice. 325 AD was when Jesus' birth was estimated to have been around December 25, but this was contested for years, and many scholars are fairly certain Jesus was born in the Spring because of the few cultural hints that exist. It wasn't until the mid 1800s that Christmas was celebrated widely, which was led mostly by secular institutions to recognize the class differences and offer hospitality to the poor, this was also the time when Santa Claus became popular thanks in large part to Coca Cola. And in America, does anyone recall Article 11 in the Treaty of Tripoli?

Let's not pretend that we don't recognize this day as an over-commercialized, secular holiday. I suspect that throwing a little sign in the window that says, "Jesus is the reason for the season" eases a little bit of that guilt coming from those who are overly indulging their credit card.

So, I have a difficult time hearing Christians defending a holiday that they claim was created to celebrate the birth of Jesus, when, in fact, it was not. My family has chosen to make that a part of our tradition, and it can be lovely--especially when those of us who love Jesus hear devotion to him come out of our children's mouths in song... but to pretend that it hasn't become a picture of extravagant consumption is to kid yourself. And to impose this on everyone? Knowing full well that we live in a country that allows freedom of religion, and to pretend that our hard-earned money to spoil our children will only be spent on institutions who feel likewise? If this is really their intention then why don't look at a few other issues--like which stores treat their employees fairly, which stores do not use sweatshops, which stores offer fair health care programs to their employees, etc. this seems much more "Christian" than one who merely says the word. Ah, but perhaps I found the rub.

And to my brother, who says I should be wary of judging the "other side" so harshly, I say this: Sometimes it's necessary to step up and stop an atrocity. If only more Christians had spoken up during the early days of the Nazi's regime we may have avoided millions of deaths. And yes, I do see some similarities. Focus criticized those stores that said "Happy Hanukkah" as trying to be too inclusive. I know enough about pre-Nazi Germany to know that the Holocaust started with small acts such as these. I don't believe that Jesus calls us to be nice and docile, rather to stop injustices. He was pretty harsh himself to the Pharisees.

I just do not foresee any people coming to know a loving Savior because of these sorts of efforts from Focus and other such groups and campaigns. None of my friends of other faiths are knocking down my door to hear more about this Jesus I claim to know and love because they were introduced to him through a sign at Walmart. I fear, rather, that these efforts scare would-be converts away rather than draw them in.

I choose to celebrate Christmas because I love Jesus Christ and am thankful for all that he has done, mostly that he was born and sacrificed his life so that I may live. My deep gratitude for that sacrifice is what compels me to enter into this conversation, and attempt to offer a little insight, at least in terms of why I get sad over Focus on the Family. I choose to celebrate his birth in association with this day, because it is what my community does, it is how I grew up, it is an introduction to my children of the saving relationship I hope they have with him. I do not, however, choose to impose this tradition on those around me by giving or not giving my business to a certain store.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

lessons on race

Theater today. Just me and Myles. Taking advantage of our "educator/student" discount to watch the DCPA's version of Tom Sawyer. I invited a few of my students to join us and do the same. We were waiting for their arrival in the lobby.

Me: "Help me watch out for my students."
Myles: "What do they look like?"
Me: "Well, you met them the day you came to school with me. Devin is a tall, thin black boy, remember, he gave you a high five? And Jahne is a tall, black girl with big, beautiful hair."
Myles (after scanning the crowd a few times): "Mom, there are no black people here at all. Wait. Except for that security guard."
Me: "Hmmmm. You may be right."
Myles: "Mom, why are there no black people here?"
Me: "I'm not sure."
Myles: "Maybe some black people don't like to follow Martin Luther King Jr's rule."
Me: "What do you mean by his 'rule'?"
Myles: "The thing he taught to the world... you know! That black people can be with white people, that it doesn't have to be black with black and white with white."

My students didn't show up. If they had, Myles would have been correct. They would have been the only black people in our theater. It was all white people--mostly white moms and dads and grandparents with their white kids.

I cannot answer him. I cannot tell him why black people in Denver today didn't show; why they don't like the theater. Especially why they don't like Mark Twain, an advocate for their equality. But one thing I did try to tell him was this:

Me: "Let's be careful with the word 'they' because that implies that there's a 'they' that is all the same. And. As we know every white person we know is entirely different. And every black or brown person we know is also very different from anyone else."

But. It does hit close to home with my current battle. Why is it that 99% of the students in the advanced track at my school are white, and 90% of all the students in the low track (the one in which I am currently teaching) are black or brown (a term used by the school to identify minorities--mostly blacks and hispanics)?

I don't know. I don't know much. But I do know that we have a serious racial disparity and inequality in our country. And it weighs on me. It smacks of a deep problem. One that is not being talked about at a national or local level. One that is being quietly ignored and blamed on a variety of factors. One that I have no idea how to begin to solve. But I'd like to try. And I'll likely be exploring this further.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

In Medias Res

So... I've joined an online writing group. Ya. And I'm supposed to write something on the first Wednesday of the month. Which is today. And I just realized that. And if I don't post I think I get kicked out of this group that I haven't even participated in yet. So I'm writing. Just to contribute. I'm stealing a moment in between hockey practice and cranky teenagers and impatient children to write something for my new "Insecure Writers Group." How's that for a title?

So here's my Something:

It's Advent. Which my pastor keeps telling me has to do with Longing and Coming. And she's challenged us to think of what it is we're really longing for. Not in a Santa or Elf-on-the-Shelf sort of way, but in a "dig deep and figure your sorry ass out" sort of way. I think. Because then she challenged us to get stuck there. In the longing. And realize that we're in the middle. The in-between. The tension of the longing. Which doesn't quite make sense to a control-freak like me, because I like endings. I love finishes. I like things when they're done. I hate to be stuck anywhere--traffic, awkward parties, airplanes that shake too much, or Wednesdays. In fact, I may well admit, I have a bit of an obsession with the endings. I am impatient. Yes. For my kids to fall asleep, for my students to "get it," for my husband to come home from CA, and for Friday afternoon.

In Medias Res is a Latin phrase which means, "in the middle of things." It's how Homer and many other old, white writers started their epics and plays and such. I suppose they chose an exciting place to begin because it got their audiences wanting to watch (or listen). The Middle engages us. Immediately. If they started at the end, the audiences might not care much, and the beginning is too boring, too much set-up. So they start in the middle. Taking their audiences right into the tension.

I suppose that is what Advent does--takes us directly to this "middle," this tension, this conflict, or longing. Places us there and challenges us to feel our way around in it. And if we're willing, it allows us to ask the questions, the hard ones: What does this tension reveal about me? Why do I long for more? What is it that I truly desire? What is it that I'm using to ease this desire in my impatience for the end? What am I doing to contribute toward this ending that I desire? Do I trust in an All Powerful God, like I claim? Do I allow the tough work to be done in my life when I'm stuck in this middle place?

And the answer to any of those questions is scary. And real. And I suppose that is the point. Maybe my pastor isn't so far off base after all. Maybe she is, in fact, inviting me to The Point of it all. And perhaps The Point isn't at all like I imagined (a floating, ethereal existence on a cloud) but rather an existence In Medias Res.

And certainly one of my In Medias Res at this current point in time is my writing career. Or lack thereof. I have no idea if a pursuit of this is juvenile, insane, or simply delusional. And that's where I exist now.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Thanks for that

Because I was too busy yesterday drinking the punch I was assigned to contribute to the festivities of the day (okay, yes, mine was mostly vodka with a bit of punch).

For health, wealth (relatively speaking), and wisdom (not mine, but others)...
For laundry, hot water, and Clorox wipes.
For pens that work, fresh paper, and new books.
For warm coats, clean socks, and cozy comforters.
For my new mac, icloud, and googledocs.
For my faithful and godly and humble and funny and integrous husband. The one who loves me.
For laughter. In abundance.
For new babies. New life: refreshing and inspiring. Offering hope and promise.
For friends. Old and new. Inside jokes, memories of deep scars and fresh insights.
For yellow labs. Especially those in their last year. Snuggles and joy.
For cars that haven't broken down, faucets and heat that work, and plenty of food in the fridge.
For two beautiful boys who bring me more pain and joy than I ever thought possible.
For teachers that teach. And love. And keep trying and smiling.
For vodka and other forms of substance that help me endure those rough days.
For words. Long conversations, texts, books, heart-wrenching stories of endurance and hope.
For phones and letters that allow such words.
And, mostly, for love. That I receive in abundance and keep trying to give.

These are my thanks.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

My Life as a 5 paragraph essay

Yes, this will no doubt need editing.

I am inundated with essays during this season. Really. Really. Really bad ones most of the time. To teach or not to teach the formulaic 5-paragraph-er is a debate in English departments that never retires. Endless arguments for and against this harmless little ditty ring in my ears when I cannot sleep.

Get over it, I say. Just teach it, I advise. It does no harm, and as I always compare it to a paint-by-number, it may just help a child see the purpose of an argument in writing. It's simple, clear, and well-organized. Just like I like my life to be, but never quite is.

But I started considering. What if my life were this: A 5 paragraph essay. Which paragraph would I be in? Am I nearing my conclusion? (I haven't done anything GRAND yet!) Am I merely in the first few paragraphs? (perhaps I'm about to stumble upon the next great invention?) Or, likely, am I somewhere in the middle trying to redeem the ramblings I've provided to this world thus far?

If at all interested, here's what I think it may look like in this poor form (my own editing and self-doubt included):

Life is an endless journey. Oh, God, that sounds so trite; I DO hang out with 9th graders most of the time, they undoubtedly creep into my psyche. Start over.

Born into this world thanks to two traveling do-gooders, who were a bit earthy and a tad under-refined, I bounced into their care-free lives like a tornado, aptly in Toronto--creating countless damages and a regret for not having massive insurance or a return-to-owner tag. Asking endless questions about the nature of life, love, and God, and carefully watching for visible reflections of said reality, I challenged about everything they had to offer. I still do. And by "challenged" I actually mean questioned, sneered, doubted, and disagreed with 99% of what they tried to teach me. Thus began my investigative tendencies into all that I've come into contact with. Or, all with which I've come into contact. Whatever. I try.

(First body paragraph)
My young adult years (yes, I've skipped the atrocity and delight of childhood, I only vaguely remember things like wearing black sneakers, eating liver and onions, and yelling a lot at my pesky younger siblings) were ripe with battles and laughter. Usually the latter occurring after said battles. I strived to learn how to defend myself against increasingly strong brothers, how to carve out a bit of privacy in my chaotic household (only 1100 sf, with 6 people!), and how to avoid getting grounded, or worse, causing my Dad to hide my curling iron. And I somehow also managed to find time to memorize lyrics to Duran Duran and delve into my fantasy world where I was a famous, hot singer, and boys everywhere worshipped me and (more important) wanted to "go around" with me. Oh, and I got good grades in math.

(Second body paragraph)
Then, my Independent Years. Yes, finally. At last. I got to pay my own bills, answer my own phone calls with my new 3-pound cell phone, and actually buy whatever the hell I wanted to eat. And stay out late. And date whomever I wanted to. Until I met Les Canadian (actually I met him in my young adult years, but that's another essay about childhood marriage), who led me seemingly at lighting speed to my next years as a parent, though there are those 10 years in between which are all a blur. An education? A career? All secondary compared to where I really desired to be (and was usually found): Out. Partying. Preferably with funny people. Or at least people who thought I was funny and good-looking.

(Third body paragraph)
Middle-adult-hood (is that even a word?) and beyond (I fear cutting myself off since my upcoming talent may be prophecy): Parenting. Sleeplessness. Complications in marriage. A real job. Daycare. Bills. Even more questions about the nature and reality of life, love, and God, mixed with serious doubts about the innate nature of humanity. I committed the ultimate test in bravado and ego: I created another ME. His name is Myles. He shares (poor little guy) almost everything I have, minus a vagina and boobs. He has my temper, my impatience, my timeliness, my freakish-control, my desire to know and question everything. And I find myself at a complete loss at how to teach this young human to undo the traits I've found myself stuck with, and often I just laugh in amusement at the humor of God. For now I have no doubt that he exists (God, not Myles). And because I didn't like, though I loved, the reflection of myself, I adopted another: Thys. Who became my test in selfless love. For to love another as if he is yours has been the most difficult challenge of mothering. The temptations to dismiss his bad habits as though they're not a reflection of me, to deny his suffering because we've given him so much, to interpret his bad manners and tantrums as if he owes us... cause many moments of doubt--the kind where I think we shouldn't have passed the hours of social-worker's questions in our "home study." I commonly (and metaphorically) slap my stupid ass for such thoughts, but I'll admit, they sure do happen.

Okay, so that paragraph was too long.


My life thus far has boiled down, again and again, to a trite phrase: Love is all you need. Yes, I'm resorting to Top-40 Pop-Rock songs to epitomize my learning. I think Jesus said it even better though, pretty often in fact he talked about loving well (love is patient, love is kind), and even about loving our enemies... Because amidst all the chaos and doubt and confusion of my thus far years, I am even more confident in his guiding me to become a more viable conduit of this love that seems to always be just out of reach. Can't get it, then do it. I try.

Monday, November 14, 2011

hockey for life?

I thought my husband strange when he used to call the boys' time-outs, "The Penalty Box," and I dismissed it as a Canadianism...
But. Now, time-out includes a punishment of 5 minutes of stick handling (moving a ball with the hockey stick). I'm getting more nervous here.
It appears that all of the punishment in our house is serving an ulterior motive: Superior hockey players? A 401K? Box seats for future events? Or just cheers and high-fives from other hockey rents?
Granted, it IS fun to watch our boys score. But, seriously, I'm desperately seeking some hockey mom attire that doesn't include my snow boots, gloves, and ski jacket. I fear I may be in this for life. Any advice?

Monday, November 7, 2011


Myles recently asked me what superpower I would choose to have if I could have any one that I wanted. I stumbled for a while, as if the question merited a thoughtful answer (and suspending myself in the disbelief that it could be real). I considered opting for a "permanently super-model bod, no matter how much I eat or how little I exercise," but thought that might communicate vanity (not a trait about women that I want my 7-year-old to learn until he must), then I dreamt of money, riches, and endless days of a life without having to go to work, clean, cook, or think about hard stuff, but then I remembered that most rich people I know are miserable folks with too much class who worry about which stupid fork to use... I quickly grabbed my thoughts from entering the "I want to be fabulously smart" zone, as I don't want my son to know I'm not that already, and landed here:

I'd like to have a personal meeting, a happy hour, with God, every day. And I don't mean to sound pious or holier-than-thou, like I want to be the next Christian Women's Motivational Speaker, which is why I added the happy hour bit. Because I like to think of God as a he/she who just might enjoy a margarita more than a fill-in-the-blank workbook. I picture God as someone who could sit back and chill as we discuss the messiness of the world and my life, and that he could offer hints as to where to begin to start cleaning it up. And I'm no longer in the God-as-Santa-Claus phase of my life (though I sure slip there sometimes and wish that were true) but I kind of think that purging my fears and difficulties and f-ups to the Creator Of The Universe might do me some good. In person. Over drinks. Which is how I like to have most of my conversations.

But. Then I think there would be many happy hours where he might be silent, and let me keep talking until I realized the absurdity of what I would no doubt be saying.

And maybe happy hours where I could listen to all the crazy ways he gets involved in people's lives--where it looks like a disaster and then turns out to be a masterpiece. I'd love to hear more of those.

And those when he could simply let me know that I'm okay, that I don't need to try so hard, and remind me that he's got everything under control. And he loves me the way I am. I'd like to rest in that reality every day. I don't know why it's so hard to forget that. The thought of deep study to get there isn't my first incline during my afternoons, though I know that's what every Preacher/Teacher has suggested as a way to get that message and feel its truth.

So that's why I would opt for a happy hour. Though I suppose that's not really a superpower at all.

But I didn't explain all that to Myles. I just said, "meet God for happy hour."

And when I asked Myles what he would choose, he said, "Reunite nature." Which prompted a WTF from me, so he explained: "It means to bring nature back to our world and show people how nature can teach you how wonderful the world can be."

Dear God, I'm raising a hippie.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

sermon notes

This morning Pastor Mark kicked off a new sermon series on Art and Worship. He showed a video of Diet Wiegman doing crazy, unbelievable, "Shadow Art" and connected it with John 3: 18-20 about exposing dark things to the light. He mentioned his own trip to the Guggenheim where he witnessed a large piece of nasty trash, and then walked to the right spot where a light shining on the trash revealed the shocking shadow: A delicate woman with a parasol.

He asked us to watch a short video of the art and then sit quietly and reflect. He said we could take notes, and that they wouldn't be judged or graded.

Here are mine:

Contrasts. Light and Dark. Drastic differences unfold the unique, the unusual, the beautiful. Things exposed and observed in a different way than we originally assume, a different vantage point, or from the "correct angle," reveal a clear reality and purpose that likely would have been missed. Chaos suddenly has a purpose, and once you see it, you can't go back to ignoring it, spiting it, scoffing at it, or skeptically analyzing it.

Light from the correct angle makes everything clear, clearer than it ever was. And not a slow "Oh ya, I saw that coming" change, but rather a "Oh shit, I had no idea that was coming" change. Light redeems the ugly.

Then, there's our own darkness, the ugliness in our own lives that can prevent us from doing, creating, being... The darkness that we often work so hard to hide in the most ironic of places, the Church. The "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy that reigns supreme in many of our communities (and Churches) while it cripples: "Clearly, X has a drinking problem, but don't confront or ask"... "Obviously, X is suffering, but don't ask, she's a drama queen"... "Yes, X is cheating on X, but let them deal with it and figure it out"... "Obviously X is gay, but don't you dare mention it."

Not that confrontation is what Lightness does. In fact, the artistic images communicated a welcome brilliance, not a hostile takeover. Sometimes we expose ourselves (not in the illegal way...) when we finally let go of a dark part of ourselves by confession to those we've hurt. Ready for the consequences, but freed by the relief of hiding, holding back... Sometimes, yes, we are confronted with someone else "pulling us over" and exposing what we didn't have the courage to do ourselves. And then it may take some time to come to terms, to admit our guilt, possibly before we're ready. But I wonder if the pulling over perhaps saves us from worse damage that may have occurred at a later time...

But no doubt, the exposure creates suffering. For all involved. For the confessor and the confess-ee. I do believe that God takes extremely special care of people in these circumstances: He cradles them, and gives them an irrational dose of grace and peace and comfort. And glimpses of hope: Glimpses of the final beauty that is only revealed from that exact angle, with the light in just the right spot. The picture. The shadow. The final product. The purpose of it all. Seeing that rare glimpse (the one I think we only get to see when we are in deep suffering) gives us the strength and endurance we need to get through the difficulty of exposure.

Hallelujah. Finally that word makes some sense and has a purpose.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

All the things I didn't do today

I had big goals this morning. A long list started forming in my head the moment after I found out that school was cancelled because of snow (my school, NOT the boys' school!) ... and I'm often found to be ambitious when I'm still cozy under my covers. There's something about setting goals and feeling completely confident that I can accomplish them while still not moving. There must be a diagnosis for this: I-think-I-can-do-everything syndrome? Delusional syndrome? Anyone else suffer from this? It leads to a great feeling of failure at the end of the day.

But then I got distracted: by reading other people's blogs, by drooling over the new Nordstrom catalogue that just arrived in the mail, analyzing my grey roots, taking a nap, playing Words With Friends, picking dog hair off my coat, wondering what my life would be like if I never had to go to work, and watching my neighbors shovel their walks...

Then five minutes after I dropped the kids off at school, I had to pick them up again, only to be disappointed by how fast my day seemingly passed me by.

I still had the afternoon!

But. Instead, I did this:

Because. Well. They're only young once. And I have a dreadful thought that the next time I blink, it will be snowing and they'll be in college, or married, and calling only when they want to do laundry or have me babysit their kids. And the days when I can help them build a castle will be The Past.

I don't want to be in The Future and wish I hadn't been in The Present.

While we were building, a nice looking early-30-ish guy stopped his work truck in front of our house and walked toward us.

Guy: "Hi. My name is Nate. My Grandma lived in this house. I haven't seen it in years and I saw you out front, so I just thought I'd say hi."

Me: "Get lost, creeper."

Just kidding. (But that did happen to me once when I went to visit my childhood home in Bellflower.)

Me: "Hi." Kind smile, you know, that one that got me free services on my Mac. "Come on in. Take a look around..."

He shared all kinds of memories and was especially shocked that it was so well preserved (meaning, we haven't done any remodeling, and it still looks like it did in the 50s). But he said that in a nice way.

And then. I remembered my own Grandma's house. The one where we ate Grandma Buns and watched her iron. Where we found her old gloves in her drawers. And marveled at the fact that she and Grandpa had separate beds. Where we sat with 40 people in the living room having cake after Church and listened to Grandpa's corny jokes. And Grandma's laughter.

And Nate and I shared a smile. Memories. Place gives them more power than we may have realized. Or maybe anticipated. Place forces us to take stock and realize how much we are the ones that have changed and moved on. For better or worse.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

call security

Harv was at DIA this morning. And while I was on the phone with him, he witnessed (and I overheard) this scene:

An 18 month old having a temper tantrum on the floor of the airport. A loud one.
According to Harv, the Mom was quietly ignoring said baby, likely exasperated while waiting for her flight. Resisting in her core NOT to give in to whatever demands he had: He wanted his mom to give him candy like the boy next to him? He wanted to tug off the neighbor man's tupee? He wanted to take off his diaper? Maybe he just wanted to scream about the unfairness of life. Don't we all have those moments?
An older woman came over and told Mom to pick up the baby and make him stop crying.
Mom said, "no." I wish I could've seen the faces to describe them. I can only imagine the mom's look of shock: What? Are you flipping telling me how to parent here? You go pick up the screaming baby! And change his diaper while your at it!
But I don't know what the mom said, except "no." I wish I could have stood beside her at that moment and given her a high five.
The older woman went to get security. Yes, she did.
Then Security came and told the woman that she did indeed need to pick up the crying baby.

If parents are disciplining/teaching their children in public, good for them! I, personally, didn't often have the guts to do this, too embarrassed by the scene it would likely cause. I chose to pick up my messy and loud brats and soothe them (or threaten them). But if I wanted to teach them something, letting them have their tantrum instead of giving in to them would have been the better and quicker route.

Why has our country made it so hard for parents to discipline children? Do non-parents believe that children are not flawed creatures? I doubt it. Even all of my non-Calvinist friends believe in original sin, they just call it something different, like, evil. Anyone who has spent more than 10 minutes around most 2 year olds knows the equation: screaming = getting what you want.

Now, as a teacher, I see the long-term consequences of this conundrum at the high school level. It becomes very clear which parents have towed the line and been brave enough to discipline their children. They produce children who don't argue with me when I ask them to do something hard, like say, take out a pencil. Then there are other parents who give a gentle, "you shouldn't do that again" to a child who has ditched two of my classes.

Consequences can be ugly. And painful. Like a screaming child. I think that our society should step up and allow parents to do this in public. I believe that all people should support parents who are doing the tough, front-line work of discipline. The older woman (likely not a parent herself, or if she is, I would bet money that her children are ugly people. Either that or she never took them in public) should have quietly ignored the situation. Or, she could have walked away if she hated the sound of a screaming child (often considered one of the most painful sounds in the world). Or, she could have tried to distract the child herself--sat down on the floor and tried to make her laugh by telling the child a silly story or showing her some archaic item out of her purse. Or at least asked the poor mother if she needed any help! Worst case scenario is that the child might have been so terrified of her that she would have become aware of the public setting and gone running back to her mother.

Instead, the message this older woman sent to the younger mom in the trenches is this: Do not interrupt my quietude (in the airport of all places) with your work of raising a child. Do the tough work of child-rearing (indeed the toughest job of all, why hasn't there been a parenting episode on "Dirty Jobs") somewhere else. We only want the benefits of a well-behaved child in our society; we don't want to witness the loudness and difficulty of the effort it takes to get there. And we certainly aren't going to help you.

I doubt that this woman cooks for herself, works out, or even admits that she farts.

Our Cloroxed and combed images that many seem to be so concerned about have hidden the difficult realities of life. We don't like to watch a meat butcher or how animals are treated before slaughter, but we love our steak... We cringe at the thought of a sweatshop with overworked and underpaid women and children, but we love our clothes, the cheaper the better (Walmart?) ... We hide our old people in deluxe nursing homes, close the doors while we poop, well, maybe some things should happen behind closed doors.

My point: We don't like the hard stuff. But we like to enjoy the benefits of other people's hard stuff.

And yes, I'm pointing my finger at this terrible woman in the airport, but (like always) three fingers are pointing back at me... what have I done lately to help women in distress? Single moms at their wits end? Homeless women? My students' moms... ah, yes. Reality check.

I think all humans should take responsibility for raising little ones well. We will all be grateful in the long run.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

awareness part 2

It turned to snow....
And now Fall and Winter have collided in a sloppy mess here in Denver.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011


"Let us not look back in anger, nor forward in fear, but around in awareness."
--James Thurber, American author and cartoonist


It is much easier for me this week. I have the entire week off and my kids are both in school (different districts). This has never happened before. Needless to say, I'm in a happy place. A place that has given me a bit more space to be aware.

Aware of...
-the rain that is about to turn to the very first snow fall of the season
-some objectivity to readjust the lens through which I view my current students
-some perspective as I visit old friends and old students today
-peace as I get to spend quiet moments throughout the day with Harv
-giddy joy as I have time to write silly notes for my boys' lunchboxes
-the irony of KD Lang playing on my itunes, singing about Canada with her smooth, compelling allure
-the mess of my pantry, the stink of my bathrooms, the tragedy of my kitchen
-a pull from the past, as Paul draws me into a new letting go, writing from his jail cell thousands of years ago
-the vital life force provided by kindred spirits, who, even without their presence or words, bring me smiles

Thanks for being one of them. Writing to you makes me feel as if we're sitting here together in my dining room.

Wish we were. Love to you all.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011


I don't mean to brag, but, I haven't been cussed out at work for over a week. To me, this means I'm doing a pretty good job. Amazing how things change when you lower your standards a bit.

My new job has forced me to confront the exact opposite segment of society that I was dealing with at the fancy, private high school the past few years. And I do mean opposite in every sense of the word: race, parent involvement, income, brands, language, test scores, which, by the way, are entirely predictable based on race in our country. Why is this? I am on a mission to figure it out. When I do, I'll let you know. Then I'll publish a book and earn millions of dollars. Because of course so many rich people are dying to buy a book that tells them how to fix the racial disparities in our country. I'm quite sure there would be a long line during the book signing. I'd certainly be interviewed by Bill O'Reilly, and of course Katie Couric, and I'd finally be able to afford those Frye boots I've been wanting for years. I digress into fantasy land.

I have one simple solution: pay attention to your kids.

I have a sneaking suspicion that it may just be THIS SIMPLE. Now, how to put that into chapters, I have yet to discover. But it may look something like this:

Chapter One: Feed them. Preferably healthy foods. At least not fast food. Most of the time.
Chapter Two: Talk to them. Often. Daily. Hourly, if you are in the same house.
Chapter Three: Read to them and with them. Go to the library. Often. And then talk about what they're reading instead of watching TV.
Chapter Four: Give them chores and responsibilities. And then have the balls and discipline to hold them accountable for them.
Chapter Five: Provide blank paper. And markers. Give them space to create.
Chapter Six: Put them to bed on time. And make them stay there.
Chapter Seven: Make them do their homework. Do it with them. Or at least be beside them.
Chapter Eight: Be interested in their life. For God's sake, don't have children if you can't do this part.
Chapter Nine: Hugs and kisses. Lots of them.
Chapter Ten: Pray. For wisdom and guidance and patience and joy.

Now, I'll be the first to admit that I fail at many of these. I am often guilty of letting my boys watch a flick so that I can sneak outside on my patio to have a smoke with my glass of wine. Yes. I do this.
But. I like to think that I do most of the things listed most of the time. And I do Chapter Ten every day.
I'm not claiming to have great kids or be the best parent (though I'm in contention every year for Parent of the Year, especially since watching my sister's six week old twins a few weeks ago and setting one on the couch to go to the other room to get the other one and then hearing a thump. She fired me.)
I'm just sayin, though. The kids I'm dealing with didn't get much of these much of the time. They're a hurting group of kids that has learned how to survive by inflicting their hurt on others. And I'm slowly figuring that out. Trying to love them and not be totally drained emotionally at the end of the day. But, honestly, it kind of sucks most of the time right now. My goal is to get to a place where it only hurts some of the time.

Monday, October 17, 2011


Does this even need commentary?
This is a picture of a priceless piece produced by my then-1st grader. When I first saw it, I was worried that he was having an affair with his teacher, since she complimented his work, and commented on the size. Call Social Services! Then I quickly remembered that his teacher has the same sense of humor as my full-length mirror: unrelenting and rarely in use.
Then I realized that she was writing stock answers on all of her papers. Yes, that was it. Surely I know this trick well. But. Then I became paranoid that I had unknowingly missed an equally disturbing comment on a recent paper I'd graded. Oh, the therapy this child needs. An exhibitionist! In my house!
Finally, I read the top of the paper where he finished the sentence with "collection" followed by a period.
Yet another lesson on the importance of punctuation. Or lack thereof.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

life without a computer

A few weeks ago, I asked Thys to come and look at a screen on my computer (my new Macbook, which I love more than, well, chocolate). And on his way to the viewing, he tripped (have I mentioned that this child falls on his face while eating dinner? Regularly?) Oh, and he had a large, full glass of water in his hands. Yes. Said water landed on the most important part of my Mac: it's crotch. Done. Goodbye.
I confess: I almost cried.
The not-so-handsome boys/men at the Mac store (which, I've learned, you need to make an appointment to see several hours ahead of time) said that they "liked my smile" and decided to fix it for free. For free. The paperwork suggests that it costed more than $800. And. I am fundamentally opposed to warranties. Or maybe just cheap. So I am one lucky gal. With a great smile. Thank God.
All this to say, I have been computer free for a few weeks. But I harbor no pain. Now that it's back.
Life is good.
But, since I can, I must vent my weekly frustrations:
-If one more single (and by single, I do mean a human without dependents) person complains to me about how BUSY they are, I will punch them in the stomach.
-One of my uber-annoying colleagues called me, "homey" today. She about got a punch as well.
-I asked a student to put away his earbuds the other day, and he said, "F*** you, Bitch" At least he got my title correct.
-Then, I asked another student to take a quiz, (I know, I know, I am so unreasonable) and he replied, "this is bullsh**"
-I don't exactly love my job right now.
-But. I have my Mac back. Life is good.

Male and Female (the goldfish) were recently flushed. Thank you Disney for creating the movie, Flushed Away, which gave my story about a happier place below ground much more credibility.

Trying to keep it simple here.
Brian, junk post coming soon. Stay tuned.
Peace out, homeys. (I don't even think I'm spelling that correctly)

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Thys is 5

My previous annual tradition that I am reviving: sending a cybernote to Thys' birthparents on his birthday:

To the woman in China, near Dianjiang, who gave birth to a boy on or around September 26, 2006 (and the man who fathered him):

He is turning 5 tomorrow.
And just so you know:
He has two pet goldfish, named "male" and "female."
He asks about you often, would like to tell you, "hi," and wants to meet you someday.
He asks us why you gave him up. We do our best to explain.
He is in Kindergarten. His best friend's name is "Spencer."
He wears Spiderman tennis shoes religiously.
He loves to be goofy. He loves to laugh. He's a jokester.
And loud.
Right now he's wearing a cotton headband and looks like a cross between Jackie Chan and Richard Simmons.
We will celebrate him tomorrow. And I like to think that you will too. I like to picture you in China, thinking of him. Wondering how he is. And sending some positive vibes and prayers to lend to his success and happiness. And. Maybe even lighting a candle in his honor.
As I write, he's in the backyard yelling at the neighbors, "In one day my birthday is going to come!"
And he has a ghost painted on each cheek.
He is loved.