Monday, December 31, 2007

Month Nine




Dear Grayson,

It has been quite a month for you. You have asserted your independence by refusing to sit up unless your grandpa keeps his hands firmly held on your hips, spitting your squash out at your father until he stopped feeding you and you realized that lunch would be delayed, and refusing to say "mama" more than a few times (which is truly a cardinal sin and I must warn you will be on your record when you meet Jesus and the pope and Bruce Springsteen and Gloria Steinem in heaven someday and they ask what you were doing when you weren't saying "mama.").

Your mama has washed so many of your Christmas outfits (the candy-cane striped sleeper and the red thing covered in gingerbread men, and that 'Pooh's First Christmas' onesie) ad nauseum. While the practical part of me says that we should just keep letting you wear them throughout the post-Christmas months, the anal-retentive part of this woman keeps cringing internally when I think of you wearing the aforementioned festive finery in February (when God and the world know one should be wearing heart-themed apparel, dammit).

I should not be surprised that the first word you've uttered after the ubiquitous "Dada" and fleeting "Mama," is "Caaaaatttttt." I am actually secretly thrilled that you love Cooper and Moses so dearly that they have become your first "official" word. Caaaaaatttt. You are so definitive in the "t" sound. You want so very much to finish the sound. Ahh...sweet melody.

You celebrated your first Christmas last week, and true to prototypical baby form, appreciated the wrappings and boxes and ribbons much more than any of the gifts. Thankfully your parents had compensated for this and gone heavy on the wrappings (extra tissue paper, loads of ribbons), and light on the content. Books were received from Santa. Some sleepers and such. It was mostly your grandparents who surrounded you with the Christmas spirit this year.

Tonight you were fussy. I held you on my lap as I sipped at my (non weight-watcher's approved) glass of chardonay, and caught up on blogs while nuzzling your ear occasionally. You were very sleepy, sleepy enough that I considered lying you down to rest before supper, and then I clicked the link to a blog which mentioned how to entertain children during the holidays. And, lo, it was a you-tube of farting Christmas elves. And as it began to play, you laughed a deep belly laugh. And after the elves passed gas the reindeers commenced the melody and you could barely contain yourself. For over three minutes you remained transfixed. And somewhere in the universe your Great-Grandma Miller laughed and said, "He'll be a Miller by and by just like his great-grandpa." And that reunion you had with your second cousin Jack, the boy who shares a deep connection through his papa with your mama, became all the more tangible (bodily function jokes and all).

I marvel at the wonder that is you. You are growing so fast.

I love you, love you, love you. More than the stars.

Mommy




Wednesday, December 19, 2007

On What I Thought This Would Be

Occasionally I feel the need to apologize for what this blog was supposed to be, and what it is right now. Originally, I wrote because I needed an outlet for what sermon writing and journaling once had been for me while I was in pastoral ministry. Originally, I spent more time in contemplation, more time alone, more time in self-reflection. I could afford to put my energy there.

And then, this cataclysmic shift happened and I had a child who consumed my thoughts. All that time spent in contemplation, that time spent trying to discover who I was as a child of God became time spent feeding a baby, and time spent caring for the needs of another, and time spent word-finding after the mind-numbing sleeplessness took over. And I have been so consumed, so overwhelmed that I would turn to a blank screen in front of me and say, "Nope. I've got nothing."

And yet, this parenting, this discovery of Grayson, is another form of contemplation I'm learning. When I spend a good ten minutes marveling at the way Grayson uses his hands, or ponder how it is that he's learned that the word "cat" can be applied to all four-legged creatures (we try not to discriminate against dogs in this house), and not just one particular cat (namely Cooper as Moses runs like hell to hide from the boy's ever stretching grasp), I find myself scratching my head in wonder. And I find myself re-imaging God. I love my child so much. If God is my parent, than how much must God love me? I'm still learning how to take that in.

There were people who told me that a baby could change your life. And I had the audacity not to believe them, even after being a step-mother.

But being a mother is not the all of who I am, and in time I intend on refocusing on the other roles that Christen plays. But, it seems near impossible to do that when I have little sleep. I can barely remember to change the boy's diaper sometimes, let alone wonder at the mystery that is our Creator.

This is not meant to be simply a "Mommy Blog;" I am not comfortable dwelling only in that world. But, for now, it is where my creative energies lie. And I trust that there is a "more" which will also emerge.

So, in my blog writing, perhaps you came initially for the contemplation, for the hospicey stuff, for the ministry speak, but perhaps you'd consider staying for awhile because the boy, he's got stuff to teach this old lady too. I'd I sure like to share that with you as well.

This Makes the C-Section Scar Worth It

And shortly after this picture was taken his Mama devoured him whole, for he was so sweet.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Month Eight




Dear Grayson,

Normally Mommy isn't a slacker. Really. And, normally she wouldn't post something twelve days late. But, then, well, you were born. And, while Mommy didn't become a slacker, she did find other things a bit more absorbing than typing (which, incidentally, Mommy both loves and finds a bit troublesome). And so, now, twelve days after you officially turned eight months old, you'll have an update (and so will this blog).

Today when I dropped you off at the babysitter's home (and I mean, really, "babysitter" is really such a lackluster term for what S. does for you, which is to love you and cuddle you and feed you and rearrange her family's life for you at times), she said, "Grayson, you've changed! I don't know how...but you just look...different." Daddy mentioned the other night that the only thing that was keeping you from looking like a little boy as opposed to a baby, was the lack of hair (in which case you also might look like your grandfathers). I have packed numerous boxes full of "little baby boy" clothes to hand off to friends and marvel at how long you are now. And, man, you are a LONG kid ("95th percentile", your mother remarks proudly, as if my 5'2" would foretell the future Michael Jordan that you would become [the Michael Jordan minus the basketball, as your papa and I aren't big sports fanatics...unless you want to do it...and then we'll comply...maybe...and only after your piano lessons...and chess club meetings...and Math trivia bowl challenges...and figure skating competitions...and stamp collecting exhibitions...after which you'll take the slide ruler out of your pocket and inform us that you're not going to be the nerd we're raising you to be any more, because you have your own life, dammit. And you'll march right out to the garage in your Milli-Vanilli T-shirt and work on the engine of your 1983 Chevy for the demolition derby]).

You are an incredibly versatile little creature now. You have practically demolished your Rainforest Jumperoo (which is a gift from the gods [and your grandparents]). You set your feet in motion and jump to heights yet unseen in this house, or unseen at least since Cooper fell off that bookshelf in the library and practically fractured his bad hip. Your motion in the jumperoo, the back and forthing of it all reminds me of Grandpa Herman's docked fishing boats as they rock in the waves on Chapman Lake and slam into the used tires he hangs over the seawall as cushions, and somehow in the Miller world of poetry that thought is actually deeply sentimental and not at all like the start of a bad Ernest Hemmingway novel and makes me a little weepy. You'll never know Great-Grandpa hauling you around in one of his fishing boats while you wear a life preserver three sizes too big. To you, he will be the gentle man who holds you closely and, occasionally confuses you with one of your other second cousins. But, perhaps, someone else could someday repeat his deeds in an old green rowboat in the shallows of Chapman Lake in years to come.

You've finally come to your senses and uttered the magical words, "Ma Ma." You said it for the first time on the way home from your babysitter's one day (actually it was on December 4th at nearly 5:07 p.m. but who's counting?). You punctuated the syllables loudly and when I turned around in astonishment, barely missing swerving into the SUV next to us, you laughed. It was as if you were just waiting for the right moment, for the cinematic effect. Now you regale me daily with those delightful words. And maybe 12% of the time you're actually referring to me.

Crawling? Not such a big deal to you. Everytime we put you on your tummy, you happily roll back over onto your back and giggle. Sitting up? You can. Do you want to? Not so much. Mostly, you like to sit up for 8.2 seconds and then throw yourself dramatically backward (usually onto pillows or my lap) and laugh. You prefer that the world comes to you as you recline on your back, just as Cooper comes to you whenever you yelp for his furry love. I don't want to throw the word "lazy" about, or surmise where this trait comes from, but there was one parent who's baby book used that word in reference to him. The other parent's baby book was abundantly laden with various incarnations of the sentence, "she is very careful." Hmmmm...

You are the most amazing creature I've ever encountered. I love to watch you learn and unfold and grow. I love to be your mama. I love to have you for a son.

Mama


Sunday, December 02, 2007

Watching Weight

There is something incredibly humbling about viewing yourself in a full-length mirror eight months post-partum for the first time. Deeply humbling. And a little upsetting. Or a lot.

Last weekend we celebrated the wedding of one of the sisters (the spiritual sisters, those who know me the most intimately, although not biblically). And we stayed in a fancy-dan hotel. Where there was, alas, a full-length mirror.

We don't have a full-length mirror in our home (no, wait, on further reflection I forgot that we DO have one in Miss B.'s room, but apparently I have not been in her bedroom whilst naked, silly me). To get to my dress hanging in the closet at the hotel I had to walk, had to walk without clothes, past the full-length mirror. Had I known it would be such a shocking experience, I might have braced myself with a double shot of scotch first, or maybe some Valium.

The scales had been telling me, very gently, that I still had a good ten pounds to go before I would weigh what I weighed before Grayson was born. My work clothes were fitting, but a little too tight for my puritan tastes. But there was something about seeing myself head to toe which was, well, alarming.

And that alarm quickly turned to depression and incredible self-loathing.

In my late teens and early 20s I would not say that I had an eating disorder, but I would say that I was, and have been at other times throughout my life, eating disordered. Throughout college I fell into fits of deep sadness if my weight soared even a half pound above 125 pounds. To hide what I believed to be a flawed body, I
draped myself in oversized men's extra-large shirts and sweaters. I liked clothes that hung rather than clung.

In those years I ran often; my drug of choice being country roads late at night and even in the dead of winter. I was not a marathoner, but if I didn't run five days a week, if I didn't run at least 4.5 miles on those days, the jungle drums of self-loathing would begin to beat. For years I didn't run for the joy of it, I ran because I believed that I needed to. I ran even after slipping on the ice and cracking an arm. I ran through a stress-fractured tibia. I ran in sub-zero weather and in 90+ degree heat. I prided myself on my discipline.

I was not classically anorexic. I wasn't bulimic. I never threw up after a meal. I never counted calories excessively. I never appeared gaunt and starved. But I knew what I weighed at all times. And I could tell you the length of every running route in North Manchester to the tenth of a mile. I skittered along the border of the eating disordered, but I was careful to never fall too far in.

It was a slow journey to become more comfortable in my skin. A journey aided by women who I believed were utterly beautiful no matter their size. A journey aided by men who loved me regardless of my weight. A journey discovering the sacred within which reminded me that I was made in God's image, and made good.

I cannot say that in the past ten years I have made complete peace with my body. But I can say that it's better. Gradually. Slowly. It's become better.

I can say that in the past ten years somewhere my running became a release and a delight, rather than an obsession and a chore. I can say that in the past ten years I started buying clothes in the Misses department with labels tagged with an "M" rather than a Men's "XL." I can say in the past ten years that I realized that weighing upwards or around 135 pounds was a healthy weight for me. I can say that in the past ten years I was beginning to see in myself the beauty I've always found in other women, regardless of their size or shape. I began to soothe my roundnesses rather than shun them.

And then I walked by that mirror. That full-length mirror that held nothing back. And I felt like I was nineteen years old again with a mountain of self-loathing and the desire to circle the hotel parking lot in my Nike running shoes until I was winded and exhausted, until my steps pounded the body hatred into the ground for at least a few hours.

And the truth hurt.

I have come to believe that I will be fighting the demons of radical self-acceptance for years to come. There are no easy answers here.

I birthed a baby boy and my body is not the same. It will probably never be the same. And I need to make peace with that, even as I change what I can.

To that end I joined Weight Watchers this week. My own personal A.A. meeting, as my friend Erin calls it. A place where I have learned a new vocabulary of "points" and "flex plans" and "core foods."

This is good for me. But I think what would be even better would be to slay the dragon of self-loathing who, with his fire-breathing threats, has shattered my fragile truce with my body and knocked me into the warped world of sneering in the mirror and poking at my flabby, C-section scarred belly with an accusing pointer finger.

I am not sure how to fight this battle again, how to know if it's time to lose weight or if it's time to make peace. But I'm also unsure of how to accept myself in a body I don't recognize.

I am a feminist. I am a hospice chaplain who often watches her clients struggle for their next breath. Fat, body image, worrying about the size of one's thighs in this larger picture seems trivial in comparison. It embarrasses me that I care. I am ashamed of my petty concerns when I have been blessed with a strong body and healthy child.

But I'm still avoiding full-length mirrors these days.

I don't like the hateful look of the woman with my face and eyes who stares back when she sees my poor, sagging belly. And it's just easier if I don't have to look.


Friday, November 16, 2007

An Open Letter (with some adaptations) to the Tonka Truck People

Dear Tonka Truck Man (Because God help us if you're a Woman),

Recently you had an advertisment in Parenting Magazine. It was a special eight page spread which I'm sure cost you mega-bucks. You'll be happy to know that it stayed in the magazine even after I ripped out every single insert I saw due to its heavy duty industrial-strength glue, and so I did happen to look at it. I actually looked at it long and hard. I studied it from every conceivable angle. And then decided that even if my son grows up liking trucks that I will NEVER, ever purchase one from Tonka.

"But why?" you ask, with a manly smirk on your face, feigning innocence as you deal with the "pretty lil' lady.".

The advertisement gave me helpful hints about how to "know I'm the mom of a boy." As if that protruding appendage from his body wasn't a hint?!?

You, Tonka truck folk, remind me that I'll know I'm a mom of a boy when, among other things, Grayson "surprises me with a bouquet of flowers with the roots attached," because, obviously, he wouldn't have gardened with me enough to know that we don't pull flowers out of the ground that we've planted. Grayson, certainly, wouldn't be smart enough to know that if we want to give mommy or daddy cut flowers we should cut them at the stems, or purchase them from a florist, because, by golly, we're dumb boys who don't know better. Right?

Or, Mr. Tonka (because I simply refuse to believe a woman wrote these ads), you have reminded me that I can be sure Grayson is a "real boy" when he climbs up on the bookcase and almost knocks it over on himself because, as you so helpfully remind me, "Boys don't just like to be active, they need to be active." I'm not sure if you're aware of the fact that there are girls who are active too...for instance, my step-daughters spend five and six days, respectively, at Fort Wayne Ballet. Has it occurred to you that it isn't just the male sex that has a market on activity? And is my son less a boy if he chooses to enjoy less active hobbies? And how do we define "activity?" For instance, is "sexism" an active task? Labeling children based on their sexual organs an "activity?" I dunno...you're the experts on this gender assignment stuff, so I'm just asking...

You reminded me in your advertisement that "Boys love to fantasize about being a hero!" and that therefore "vehicle play helps them act out their dreams, letting them race to the rescue and crash into the bad guys' hangout." Does being a hero entail this crashing and destruction? I mean, I'm just wonderin' 'cause I'm a girl who doesn't know this stuff. Could being a hero mean more than violent "crashing" and "destructing," and actually encompass living justly and loving fiercely? What would it mean if a hero was known to be tender? Is that possible for boys? Can people with penises do this? 'Cause I'm just a sentimental girl asking these kind of questions...

You also mention in your advertisement that boys are "slower to start talking than girls are." I have not seen this play out in our world. My boy is already vocalizing happily at seven months, saying "Dada," and relating with his world. Of course, I'm sure that the fact that he says "Dada" rather than "Mama" is reassuring to you, reasserting the power of patriarchy and the structure of family life.

Thank you for reminding me that Tonka trucks are there for Grayson from "baby to big boy." Since we haven't needed them in his babyhood, I'm confident we'll forego them in the future. And, yes, I will enjoy all the "wild, wonderful moments" and will "remember that [I'm] part of a special group of women--[I'm] the mom of a BOY!" However, I will also remember that I am a savvy and astute woman. I am an educated feminist who sees through your manipulative misogynistic bullshit. And I am the mother of a son who will be raised to resist the oppression of gender stereotypes, gender stereotypes which you continue to proclaim even in the twenty-first century.

Shame on you.

You will not receive my dollars, nor will you receive my son's loyalty.

Sincerly,
A Woman who Knows she's the Mom of a Boy (Who Will Know Better)

P.S. As a sidenote, I do owe you a heartfelt thank you, though. Thank you for the inspiration which led my husband to sing (and teach) our son the song, "Fight the Power." I think he'll need it in this world.


Thursday, November 08, 2007

And They Say When You Have a Child You Cease to Think Deeply

Has it occurred to anyone else how comforting the Teletubbies are? Perhaps they are some incarnation of God/ess.

When I was in the midst of trying not to vomit due to the nasty stomach flu and laying very still watching the most minimal of television I happened upon them and, oh, but they were calming and, well, happy in the most serene and benign way. They knew no war. They knew no cellulite. They knew no evil mosquitoes carrying West Nile virus. They knew no world in which George W. were the ruler of the free world. And most importantly, they knew no stomach flu.

All they knew, all these simple giggling creatures knew, was that smiling baby sun and those hills over which they could scamper in all their geometric glory while giggling (don't forget the giggling, never forget the giggling). Triangles merging with squares and the colors, my God the colors...

Okay, maybe I took a little too much post-pregnancy Phenergan and perhaps my nap lasted a bit longer than normal (Note: the baby was with Grandma), but the sheer wonder of British children's television programming left me slack-jawed with wonder.

Never doubt that I don't think deeply, or haven't earned my moniker of Contemplative Chaplain. These are the things that I get paid the big Hospice bucks to contemplate. The Teletubbies as spiritual tools to calm anxiety. I've earned my keep for the day...

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Month Seven

Dear Grayson,

I got a little weepy this weekend. And, thanks to Lexapro, Mama just doesn't get all that weepy all that often. But, it was our hospice's semi-annual memorial service for the families of those who have died under our care and the woman who gave a remembrance of her husband talked about how strange it is for her that she has a grandson now, and that her husband (who died a few years ago) will never meet this child who shares his name and his great big football-player hands. And I thought about your great-grandmothers, and your great-grandfather, and your pa who have all died before your birth, who will never know you and who would have loved you so much.

I also got weepy about how big your getting, and how my infant has become lost in the big boy that you're becoming. You say "Dada" with wild abandon--often to your father, but also to your right foot, a man in the Hallmark store, the monkey hanging from your play gym, and the cat. You say it with joy as you shriek happily whilst bounding in your Jumperoo, and you say it with earnest need as you call mournfully from your crib in the middle of the night, and you say it with pleading desire as your mama makes you lie on your tummy in the heinous ritual known as "tummy time," your solemn word, your "Dada" uttered with a sigh as a summons to the man who understands you far better and would never make you undergo this torture. And finally, you say it as benediction and confirmation as you look at R. and pause, your tiny hands memorizing his chin as you feel your way across his face. "Dada."

This has been the month of your love affair with Cooper the 21 lb. cat. You are one of the few people who have fallen in love with this mentally deficient creature who often poops next to your crib and wakens you in the night with his yowling. You see past these deficiencies and look on him with eyes of pure love, giggling yourself silly when he walks in the room, or licks his hind quarters, or jumps on the chair where he's not supposed to sit, or tries to hump the other (male) cat. You see him as pure cat love and pure entertainment and how you can howl in delight when he enters your frame of vision. I hope you love animals your whole life long.

This was also the month when you scared me with an illness. A few nights ago you couldn't stop vomiting (seventeen times to be exact). You were a sick boy. When we took you to the pediatrician the words IV and hospital were bantered around and I realized in that heart-stopping instant that I felt as if I were being torn down the middle. I simply couldn't fathom having you away from home, having you sick. Sometimes it is wretchedly sweet to love something or someone so much. Someday I hope you know this kind of love for yourself.

I adore you, my sweet pumpkin.
Mama

Thursday, October 25, 2007

An Open Letter

Dear Lady who Developed the Baby Einstein DVDs,

Thank you. Thank you.

Because of you, I can place my child in his swing in front of the television while he watches nature footage and listens to classical music and learns the names of exotic jungle animals and that Galileo is really smart. Because of you, I feel slightly less guilty about the space and time I need to take a deep breath and, oh, finish a load of laundry, or actually read a chapter in my novel. Furthermore, for whatever reason, your DVD zones my son out enough that within two minutes he's fast asleep (even after I've tried every trick in the book to get him to succumb to Morpheus).

Some people may say that you are the Anti-Christ for turning children on to television. Some people will tell you that babies have no business watching television and that their brains are turning to mush. Some people want to sue you for not making their babies smarter (despite the fact that you never promised to). However, I would like to remind you that for every parent out there, who condemns you for your programs, there are ten (or hundred) more like me.

We are mommies who want very much to do the right thing, but who are also human. And tired. We are mommies who refuse to surrender to commercial television, but know that their babies are too young for PBS. We are mommies who don't like letting their little ones watch any television (even Baby Einstein), but who know that we are better parents for having some space to ourselves, and that for whatever reason, Baby Einstein seems to work. We are mommies who do what we can to get it right, and then still feel guilty.

I write this letter as my almost seven-month old croupy baby has finally dozed off to sleep in his swing in front of Baby Monet after an afternoon of fussing and fighting and fuming.

I know he's not any smarter than he was a half hour ago after listening to the Vivaldi and seeing the seasons change before his eyes. But I know this: he's finally resting for awhile. And that's a hell of a lot more than I could do for him on his own.

With sincere gratitude,
The Contemplative Chaplain







Monday, October 22, 2007

Internet Fun 101, and Also Sleep Deprivation

The boy, he has croup. Do you know what this means? This means very little sleep in Parentville for the past few nights. This means that my son, is officially, a seal [for those unfamiliar with parenting...as I was until having the boy six months ago, babies with croup get a very seal-sounding bark to their cough]. I almost want to throw him a ball and see if he could balance it on his nose, but this might be considered cruel and unusual punishment for a child with a temperature of 103 degrees. My poor, sweet lamby-boy. He is not well.

And Mommy, well, it's not about Mommy...is it? But, in case you were wondering? She has not slept very well. Sweet Daddy has offered to get up with the boy, but you, of course remember that Mommy is a hypochondriac (and perhaps has Munchausen's by proxy?) and therefore worries, worries and overfunctions, and also Daddy has been recovering from some medical stuff, and...well, now Mommy is sleep deprived.

Examples of this deprivation? Ummm...I spent a good thirty seconds (which seems like no time at all in the real world but is VEEEEEERRRRRRYYYYY long in actual life with a fussy child) trying to put Grayson's car seat in the car after our doctor's appointment. Except, I was putting the car seat in backwards. BACKWARDS!?! I have had this child for almost seven months and I decided, oh, just today to put it in with him facing forward? Well...that's what very little sleep will do to you. And then there's the absolute mind-fuck of not being able to remember that the dog is outside, in the rain, huddling under her little overhang of the house, shivering her little miniature dachshund rear end off, while I sit contentedly inside looking at catalogs and scarfing down baked Doritos.

So, how can one post coherently? Answer: they can't. I simply cannot follow a train of thought today, sort of like reading Garrison Keillor editorials (which I love, but believe are better in the telling than the writing, or perhaps it is my inability to read them which is the issue...as sometimes I believe Garrison is quite nearly next to God).

So, in lieu of any important or deep thoughts, and while Grayson is happily crashed in front of his Vivaldi/Monet Baby Einstein DVD snoring loudly, let's play the "How Did People Find This Blog" game.

Every so often I take a gander at SiteMeter stats to find out how people were referred to my blog. Often it is in oh-so-very-innocent ways...through RevGalPals link, or through Fort Wayne Observer, or because they know me and love me and are oh-so-kind to wonder what I do. But, quite often it's because, as my husband says, Google is like God, and you never understand Her ways. So, someone will type in some keywords and my post will magically pop upon their screen.

Enjoy the last month's offerings...

  • "Zofran Euphoric." I can only assume, my sweet searching pilgrim, that you were hoping that this anti-nausea medicine would make you experience the heights of pleasure. My blog, sadly, only expressed my sweet satisfaction at not tossing my cookies, which was in and of itself euphoria. Sorry to disappoint you. I suggest, though, twirling around in circles for a good four to five minutes and then falling down and seeing what happens. It always brought on a sublime high when I was about three-years-old.
  • "What is proper attire when attending a matinee ballet?" Dear Reader, I am so sorry that you are anxious enough to have to ask. In Fort Wayne, I find that flip-flops and a tu-tu work...or jeans and a sweater...or a former prom dress with an AIDS activist ribbon pinned on the breast. Perhaps, you might ask why this perplexes you so much. Do you worry about what others think of you? When all else fails take the Contemplative Chaplain approach and go with black. Basic black. Of course, I am NOT a fashionista. And have been called "frumpy" in my time. Perhaps I should refer you elsewhere?
  • "Organizing Pantyhose." Oh my. I just don't know where to begin here. Herringbone stockings next to fishnets? Blacks next to nudes? Perhaps the reader would be better served in an OCD group. Good luck with that.
  • "Can former cancer patients get tattoos?" Please. Yes. I have never regretted my tattoo. Please write me and tell me about it...
  • "My cat bites me when stroking his back." Get rid of the cat (to a loving home), and then call me. I have a great 21 lb. ball of feline love who needs a home. He doesn't bite when his back is stroked. And, he only shits outside the litter box 20% of the time.
Alright, that's all for this sleep deprived maniac tonight. I've got a boy rousing and some Gerber's green beans to be spoon-fed into a wide-open baby-bird mouth.


Thursday, October 18, 2007

How to Explain...

A conversation today has left me a bit puzzled. But, it does ask an important question for my life, the question of how one explains my denomination, and my connection to it? What does it mean to call oneself Brethren? (especially when one does not, at least at last bathroom check, have a penis?)

My denomination is officially called the Church of the Brethren. We are not the Brethren Church. We are not the United Brethren. We are not the German Baptist Brethren. We are not the Church of the Brethren and Sistern (as much as some of us may like us to be). Therefore, I am, well, Brethren.

I made the choice to join this church. I am not born and bred Brethren. I don't have the pedigree with the official CoB seal. I don't have genetic ties to Alexander Mack (one of the first CoB folk). I don't even make especially good potluck dishes.

But, I believed in what the church stood for when I joined, or at least what the Manchester Church of the Brethren stood for in my mind--diversity, acceptance, genuine welcome, intelligent thought, questioning minds, open hearts. I believed this. I wanted to cast my lot with theirs. Not because anyone else wanted me to, not because "God told me to," but because it was time and I was ready and perhaps the church was ready for me. Perhaps there was a passionate belief within me that it was time for me to take discipleship seriously, and these were folks who I thought were living it. And so it was that after much soul-searching, I made a telephone call in 1994 to the pastor of that church and said, "Susan, I'm ready." And, thankfully, on behalf of the church she said softly, "Good. So are we."

I went on to pastor that church after graduating from seminary for nearly six years. I lived within this denomination, and asked questions, and married them, and committed myself to them for better or for worse. And then when I felt abandoned by them in some deeply painful ways, I walked away, chose not to fight, opted for the safe passage out of pastoral ministry. And, it was probably the best thing for all of us. Best that I not fight for a job I loved, but needed to leave. Best that I disentangle myself from an active relationship with a denomination which I now believe is deeply unhealthy.

When I stopped pastoring, when I "resigned" from my post, I needed to lick my wounds for awhile, to hide away in a UCC, lamenting over what I thought the church could be, but wasn't. Lamenting over losing my prized place in the bosom of a church. I thought of leaving, even fantasized about what I would tell them in a few angrily penned words, but, I was still too deeply rooted in the CoB, rooted so that there were branches still budding within me, in spite of my ambivalence. And so, I walked back into the denomination. Joined a church in Fort Wayne, offered to preach some, accepted a delightful little interim pastorate, offered myself anew.

Today I tried to explain what the Church of the Brethren was. I fumbled for words as I spoke to our new Hospice marketing guru. He is a kind man, an insightful man and he asked me to explain my denomination. How do I explain it? "Um, well, we're a historic peace church. We're sort of like the Quakers, but sort of Mennonite-ish, but not the guys with the beards Mennonite-ish, and we don't wear plain clothes, and...well, we believe in peace. And Jesus. Definitely Jesus. And what Jesus taught. And, some of us are really into being open and affirming. But, some people aren't. And you don't have to be a man to be Brethren, but it is sort of convenient given the name, and, well, I don't know how long the denomination will stay together, 'cause there really aren't a whole lot of us...and we can't agree on a lot, except, well, sometimes we agree on Jesus, and, well, there's a website you could look at (as if this were the best 'witness 'I could offer)..." And he listened patiently and said, "Okay, if I said 'Presbyterian,' how alike or different are you?" Long pause while I thought..."Well, it depends."
I felt stupid. I can't even articulate my denomination to others. Geez...no wonder so many of my patients die "unsaved." No wonder my denomination is losing membership. If others are like me, we're not a great evangelistic tool.

And I have no pithy answers to tie this post up. It is what it is. And I'm learning how to be a disciple in the midst of it.


Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Step-parenting 101--Redux

So, given how amazing my step-parents are...why is it that I feel so unbelievably lost as a step-mother at times? My performance can be lackluster. My understandings feeble.

What I know is this. I take my role as step-mother very seriously. If one asked me what I am...I would probably say "step-mother" before anything else. Not because I am not "mother," "partner,"daughter," "friend," "ordained minister," or "chaplain," in equal numbers, but because I work hardest in my step-parenting.

The dueling (step)daughters, T. and B. are 14 and 11, repectively. I have been married to their father for over four years now, been a part of their life for over five years. Marriage and family therapists, those in the know, say that it takes a blended family more than seven years to adjust to life together. I know this, and live it mostly delightfully, and sometimes agnonizingly.

I am not the mother of T. and B. I will never be their mother. Their mother is a good person, a commited parent, a devoted mama, and it is never my job to try to compete with her. My job is to step aside in this regard. My job is to support their mother (and father) in their roles. I have no business in the midst of the relationship they have with their mother. I remember how close I was to my own mother, how fiercely loyal, how protective and loving. My role is one of "support staff," I need to wear the dark clothes for the folks on stage, removing and replacing objects...allowing others to shine. I have no business anywhere else.

And yet, I get hooked. I admit it. I get hooked.

I get hooked because I don't know my place. I don't know my role. T. and B. never asked for me to be in their lives. All things considered, they would be much more content if their parents had remained married, if they didn't have a younger (half)brother to contend with. I want to respect this. It is their right. They are still young.

And yet, I get hooked again. I admit it. I get hooked again.

I want them to be happy. And when they aren't I am frustrated. I want them to embrace our family as it is. And when they don't I become judgmental. I want them to understand how hard it is to be a step-mother. And when I realize how naive this is I become grumpy.

Step-parenting is the hardest thing I have ever done.

But the rewards, the rewards are sweet. When Miss T. turns to me when she's worried and asks for my support and then melts into my arms I become weak with gratitude. When Miss B. regards our special television viewing time as sacred space that cannot be shared with others I nearly swoon in love for her.

We navigate new ground all the time. We have no "taken-for-granted" reality. We merely cling to each moment, interpreting and grasping one another as best we can. We're all learning what it means to be a blended family--all five of us.

And sometimes it hurts. But more often it heals. And I hold this truth close.

Monday, October 08, 2007

Step-Parenting 101--Part 1 of 2

There are not classes on how to be a step-mother. No continuing education credits available. No degrees from the local community college. No GED credits or SAT-prep courses. Hell, Hallmark only makes one or two cards for "My Father's Wife..." or "My Mother's Husband..." at Mother's Day or Father's Day. Step-Parenting is often a foreign terrain.

I have been lucky, or blessed (as us spiritually-inclined folks call it), in that I have two phenomenal step-parents who taught me, in very different ways, how to be a step-parent.

My father and step-mother married when I was twelve. Twelve is not a particuarly easy age to welcome a new daughter into the family, nor is it an easy age to acclimate to a new parent. However, B., my step-mother seemed to adjust with finesse and ease. Frozen oreo cookie bars were stocked in the refrigerator of her home. My friends were welcomed into her home with ease. Grilled cheese sandwich making was perfected to an art. B. was available to me, open with me, present to me, but gave me the space to remember that she was not trying to be my mother, that she had a different role to fulfill. She was my step-mother, and she welcomed the task. When I was distraught about fertility issues one day, it was B. that I phoned and who put the kettle on for tea so we could sort through the options. When I wondered about how to handle my step-daughters, it was B. who gave answered my late-night calls and assured me, "You're doing the right thing, Kitten." When Miss T. had her first overnight, I made popcorn with lots of butter, just like B. prepared for my friends and me when we had late-night, post-basketball-game parties at the house on Mill Pointe. B. respected the deep love I had for my mother, never trying to surpass that relationship, always supporting my bond with my mom, nuzzling her way into my heart with her gentle kindnesses and her hospitable graciousness. I have been blessed.

And then, at 22 years of age, I inherited a step-father. A gentle bear of a man, with no children of his own who adopted me without question. D.'s love manifested itself in so many ways--from the insightful letters her wrote me when I was in college and he began dating my mom, with whom I was reluctant to share, to the tires he bought for my car my first year of college because he was worried about my driving on wet pavement in an old Honda. He reminded me of the importance of family, of how important family was to him, and of how now we created an eternal bond, the three of us, as he and my mom married (and how then that bond was renewed and recreated as R. and I married and added Miss T. and Miss B. to the brood). He, too, welcomed my friends without reservation. It was his steadfast love, and welcome into the home he shared with Mom after my own divorce at thirty, which taught me what unconditional love was. He has replaced the locks on my doors, put together Grayson's cribs, enfolded my step-daughters in love, and encouraged me to put my feet up and take care of myself when pregnant (and add to that the ready care that this consumate dog-lover has offered Maisie the uncontrollable dachshund when we've gone on vacation).

I have been so blessed, so incredibly blessed by the roles my step-parents have played in my life.

So you 'd think it would be easier for me to be one myself...but not always...

And the story continues...



Thursday, October 04, 2007

To the Leader of the Free World

Dear Mr. President,

I am merely a lowly chaplain in Fort Wayne, Indiana. My work is small, it happens on the sly in the manor homes of the country club set, in the seedy nursing facilities trying to scrape enough medicaid dollars together to add another coat of institutional green to the walls, in the retiremement villas of the well-insured, and in the small government subsidized apartment of the veteran who still suffers from PTSD and finds that his Medicaid and Medicare checks aren't quite cutting it. My work happens when I enter the abode of the one dying, and listen to their life story, and hold my own hand in theirs, and offer their cracked lips a sip of water if they ask, and maybe share some stories of living water if their in the mood, or have the inclination. And if they don't, that's okay too. My work is small. It happens quietly.

I wonder, perhaps, if with all the big things you are called to do, running around with heads of state, jetting off to foreign countries at a moments notice, enjoying your status not only as head of the free world but as privileged son of a very wealthy family, if you might not forget about those of us who do the small things.

When was the last time you sat with someone who was taking their last breath and offered them comfort? When was the last time you tried to pull together enough money from different funds for a dying person so that they might have a CD player in their room to enjoy music? When was the last time you did a financial aid assessment for a disabled veteran and realized how little their funds stretch out over a month? When did you have to tell a mother whose ten day old infant was dying that there was nothing that could be done to keep her husband from being shipped off to fight your war in Iraq by the end of the month, leaving her with a dying baby and keeping her husband from having what little precious time he could have to cradle his son in his arms?

It seems, perhaps, that your "large view," your big picture thinking clouds your compassion. It probably would mine. I would like to believe it is simply an oversight, and not ignorance. But, Mr. President, I think you're missing the little things. You're missing a lot of those little things. And your presidency is the worse because of it.

So, let's talk about this SCHIP thing, shall we? Or, specifically, let's talk about your veto of it. I know that the 6.6 million children in the world who are helped by this insurance, indeed saved by it at times, may just seem like one big number that you can't fathom. I can't. I know that by adding 4 million chldren to the program over five years still seems like a whole lot when we don't have that many fingers to use for counting.

But, Mr. President, you can't afford to hide behind the big numbers now, because the lives of children are at stake. Children who have ten little fingers, and ten little toes upon which we play "This Little Piggy." Children who we stay awake at night with while the shower runs steaming the mirrors hoping against hope that their croup, and their tears, will subside. Children with dirty red-faced popsicle smiles who need immunizations, and children with band-aid covered knees who need to be seen if they fall off their scooters. These are the little people, the faces behind those big numbers, the small view.

Perhaps your strategy is all wrong and it's time to think small now, because your previous ways haven't been working for you...and, well, truth be told they aren't exactly in keeping with your Christian tradition are they? You know, the feed the sick, clothe the naked, turn the other cheek stuff?

I know you've already vetoed the SCHIP proposal and that hearing the words from a lowly chaplain like me doesn't help much. But, you know, it's never too late to change your mind. And I know I couldn't sleep very well at night knowing I didn't at least try.

Sincerely,
Contemplative Chaplain

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Month Six



Dear Grayson,

Friday you turned six months old. A whole half year! We celebrated by going for a long walk in our neighborhood, crackling our way through the newly fallen leaves and watching the sunset maples begin their transformation into deep red.

It is hard for me to monitor the subtle changes in you. I find that I wake up one morning and it seems there was a monumental milestone that was passed in your sleep which I missed (which is amazing given how little sleep you continue to let your daddy and I get). Now it is the teeth. Two of them. Slowly making their way through your gums, and causing a bit of grumpiness on your part, not that I blame you.

This month has also heralded the introduction of the shriek. You love to babble, babble, babble, shriek (wash, rinse, repeat, ad nauseaum), especially at around 5:00 a.m. Daddy and I already find ourselves whispering, "Inside voice. Shhh... Inside voice," to which you give us one of your classic Dick Cheney grins, which roughly translated means, "I can understand you, but I'll still do it my way." Forcing me to lean over and whisper in your ear, "Barak Obama in 2008!" over and over again as I hide your elephant toy in the bottom of the toy basket.

Anothe big item on your daily agenda...toe sucking. You have found your toes, and lo, they are good. It's getting a little chillier at night and I valiantly try to put socks on your tiny feet, only to find that they are everywhere except your feet when I come back into the room. You, sadly, have inherited your mommy's cold hands and feet, and I already am obsessing about how to keep those feet warm this winter. That's your 'ole mom...a worrier to the bone.

Which brings up this little item...rolling over. You know, boy, you're six months now and I think it's about time. Your getting close to passing a normal range for this important "developmental milestone," as the baby books say. You have mastered the squirm, and can scoot yourself in a thousand different directions, but the actual rolling over, not so much. Your doctor doesn't seem that concerned as you're doing everything else pretty much on schedule, and as you were born three weeks early, but I must tell you that the word "lazy" has been bantered about in some circles, no pressure, I'm just sayin'... Your father, ever the calm one, keeps reminding me that you probably think lying on your stomach is overrated and you're simply making a conscious choice, perhaps a protest of "developmental milestones." Regardless, please work on this, as it'll make your mama feel better.

This afternoon I found you playing peek-a-boo with the animals on the Baby Noah DVD. You laughed yourself silly when the panda puppet smiled at you. You giggled wildly when the lion danced to the safari song. I could only marvel at the ways in which you already have figured out this simple game. You never tire of peek-a-boo, playing it whenever and wherever you can...cloth spit rag always poised at the ready to pull it up over your eyes and then coyly move it down, a light in your eyes.

I adore you. Happy half year!

Love,
Mama

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

And the Bride Wore Silver...

I used to be a wedding snob. I was an elitist. I would only marry couples who attended my congregation...or who indicated that they would attend (and did attend the requisite three times for me to marry them). I only married couples who took the official "Pre-Marital Inventory Test" and who then were counseled by me for at least three sessions (and often more). I looked down on "Rent-A-Pastors," as I called them. I believed that there were things one needed to do if one wanted a church wedding by a "professional."

But, my standards...they have changed. I'd like to believe it has more to do with grace than with lowered expectations. It started with some good friends who were marrying for the second time (one after being widowed). Good friends who were wise and insightful and who would learn nothing from aforementioned "Pre-Marital Inventory Test" that they didn't already know themselves. Good friends who didn't need me to counsel them, and who knew well enough to schedule their own appointments with a marriage therapist if needed.

Perhaps they were my gateway drug. From there it was a free for all, a slippery slope of wedding officiation madness...hell, I married a CNA from our office to her fiance of a year with only one pre-marital meeting. Talk about a walk on the wild side... I married a former student in a pagan ceremony in a garden at the college where the only attendants were the couples' parents and two of their favorite orchids. I'm not sure how popular I'd be in the CoB given the fact that the admonition for that wedding was "don't mention Jesus...we're not sure how we feel about him."

It used to be that I wouldn't officiate a wedding without proper church approval, without the requisite counseling standards. And then I decided I could forego with those needs, but would only officiate ceremonies of people who were friends, as a favor to them. And then...well, then, I walked into a new world.

Because... this weekend was my radical indoctrination into the wild world of "Rent-a-Pastoring," the world where one snaps on a collar and hands out a license.

You see, I couldn't say no to this request. I couldn't say no because I was asked by Shelby. Shelby, Dr. B.'s kindly nurse who did, after all, perform the insemination that did finally produce Grayson. And, well, I love Shelby. And due to all kinds of issues I didn't ultimately get to officiate Shelby's wedding, despite the fact that I would have loved to. And so, when Shelby's sister's best friend was getting married and called me, how could I say no? Despite the fact that I'd never met her or her fiancee. And despite the fact that I had always judged Rent-a-Pastors. And thought, maybe, that I was selling my soul.

The wedding was last weekend. The couple were wise enough and old enough to know what they were doing. It was the third marriage for the bride, and the first for the groom. They chose to wed in a tent in their backyard, in the company of about 200 of their closest friends. The groom rode his Harley Davidson right up to the tent gates (a modern day hero arriving on his steed if ever there were one). The bride's backless dress displayed her tattoo. The recessional was to the song of a heavy metal band with the lyrics, "Smoke 'em if you've got 'em..." But the love, the love in that sweet couple's eyes was widely apparent.

I was telling my colleague, Scott, about it on Monday morning. Wondering whether I had sold my soul by officiating ceremonies of people I'd never met before being contacted by them to marry them. And Scott said, "Don't you think everybody deserves to have a ceremony that reflects who they are? Don't you think that each of us is spiritual in his or her own way? Don't you think that a minister saying, 'Of course I'll welcome you by officiating at your wedding' says more than anything else? Don't you think it's an issue of grace?"

Well, yeah. Duh. How could I not see that before?

Grace abounds. Even for those of us who live beyond the margins. Whether that means we officiate at the wedding of the stranger, or ride our motorcycles to that wedding. Grace abounds all around us. How could I be so slow to learn?

Sunday, September 09, 2007

Five Months

Dear Grayson,

I sit, holding you in my lap, as I try to type one-handedly, jostling you on my knee and cooing softly in your ear. You are a very patient boy to put up with this addiction Mommy has to her writing, no matter how lame it can be at times.

I took you to church this morning at Beacon Heights, at the church where you have been loved and nurtured in your short life, despite the negligence I have had in regularly attending. We attended what I like to call the "happy clappy" service, where the lyrics to the songs are projected on the wall more often than sung out of the hymnal, and where there are a plethora of swaying Brethren and Sistern. Your mother is a traditionalist, and prefers the more staid first service at 9:00, but I find that the 11:15 contemporary service, a time when I believe God intends worshop to begin, appeals to our sleep schedules, and so I can tolerate happy-clappiness for sleep's sake, and being a progressive CoB the theology is good at either service, so we can't ask for more. And you, you seem to enjoy the oh-so-very cheerful nature of it all in this second service, cooing and charming the pants off everyone you encountered, vocalizing loudly during the "Hallelujah" song (and the pastor's sermon). Grammy went with us, and you found that sitting between us you had the exquisite attention of two women, add to that the wonderful kindergarden teacher who sat in front of us and let you suck on her finger, and the church assistant who sat behind us and let you tease her with your toothless grin, and life was pretty sweet.

While I joke about the relentlessly cheery nature of a contemporary service, while I often make semi-derisive comments about our denomination, I also want you to know what it means to me that you have been welcomed into this body of like-minded folk who practice the teachings of Jesus and how utterly grateful I am that you have a community to embrace you and name you and affirm you and teach you. And, I do want you to grow up in this denomination. I want you to learn to follow Jesus, to practice justice and to embrace peace and to believe in the radical gentleness and strength of love. I would like to see you commit your life to some belief, to some Source of love, to practice some sort of discipleship, to make this world a better place.

But, I want you to be discerning as well. I want you to seek truth, but I want you to be suspicious of those who promise you easy answers, and those who don't speak of what it means for you to count the cost of faith, however you weill choose to define it. Ask questions, Grayson, even if you are afraid of some of the answers. And know that there are pilgrims on this journey who will sustain you, and in whom you can turn when you doubt. But mostly, know that God is all loving, and that life is all grace.

Okay, mama will step out of the pulpit now and tell you a little more of who I see you becoming this month...

First and foremost, I apologize for the squash incident. I got so excited at the introduction of baby foods of the vegetable variety that I, perhaps, encouraged the squash a little too vigorously and the look on your face when I continued to spoon it between your clenched lips, as you continued to spit tje orange ooze out, was a look of such utter betrayal, as if I were forcing you to attend your first day of high school with a pocket-protector in you breast pocket, or making you take up the tuba as a hobby. It was a look that said, "You are so clearly unhip and wrong, and you just don't understand." Just so you know, I have taken squash out of the cabinet and will donate it to the food pantry, because that's the kind of cool mom I am.

Your gurgling and cooing and zerberting have reached mammoth proportions and you sigh with a vigorous exhale when contented. You have recently learned the power of noise and become increasingly louder when we don't pay enough attention to you.

I don't have words to describe the emotion I feel when I look at the pictures of you with your grandpa at the top of this entry, just as I don't have words to describe the sweet cooing voice that your grammy makes in your ear. These tendernesses that you're sharing with them, which are wholly apart from my relationship with them, rekindle in me memories of their parenting of me, and remind me of what I want to pass on to you. You have no idea how incredibly blessed you are to have your grandparents--all five of them.

And now, my lamb, my sweet, you have fallen asleep in my lap, your head drooping over my arm, your breathing steady and regular. We'll go upstairs and have a bath, and put on our jammies, and I'll whisper in your ear the blessings we saw today, and we'll thank a good God for the gifts we've seen, and I'll whisper my customary goodnight, "I love you, I love you, I love you" as you fall asleep in your big boy crib, kisses freshly planted on your soft downy hair.

Mama


Newsy

While I haven't been writing, the posts in my head have been prolific, it's a shame I don't have some sort of machine which could magically suck the words out of my brain and put them onto a page, or type them onto a screen. It's just that time, time has been in relatively short supply since I popped this kid out of my belly (or rather, since he was forcibly evacuated by the kindly Dr. S.). Just when I get started with a good thought, get into the flow of a nice entry, I hear wailing, or grunting, or the worst, the huffing and puffing which indicate a certain mental break-down in only a few short moments. The boy, he isn't happy when Mama types instead of paying complete attention to him, even if I try to pause between sentences to tickle his chin or jostle his swing. And, I find I don't write so well without a bit of quiet to clear my mind. Multi-tasking I can do, but not easily.

So, one asks, why doesn't your husband watch him so you can write? Well, dear reader, when my husband watches him, which is often, I find myself needing to curl up in a little ball on our bed and hibernate for a blessed hour or two of sleep as I'm nursing a nasty cold.

Contemplative this post ain't, but I hope it passes by way of a newsy enough entry to get me by until the boy goes to bed and I can get some real writing done, if not tonight, than some night this week.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

The Sisterhood


It surprises me that I have written so little about the sisterhood. So little of the women who support me and sustain me and soothe me. The women who have provided me with the skin and bones of the Divine Feminine for lo these past thirteen years since the summer after I graduated from Manchester College, a tiny hamlet in Northern Indiana.

We came together by chance one summer. One of us, the only one married at the time, was in the midst of a painful separation from her faux feminist new age husband. Some of the rest of us were hanging around town that summer getting ready for "meaningful work" which scared the hell out of us. We started a random "women's group," talking about issues like money, spirituality, body image, books. It was what you did when you were navel-gazing early twenty-somethings to pass the time.

The group solidified in the next several months as we sluffed off some of the not so active summer group members and continued to add new friends into our circle. We got together often--sometimes weekly--for discussion, and the ritual drinking of Boone's Farm Wine (the drink of choice for poor college students). And at the end of the day, or in the wee hours of the morning, we rocked one another to sleep if someone was bereft, or laughed so hard we choked milk out of our noses while we had breakfast if someone retold a remarkably funny moment, or nursed one another in illness if someone was sick (or hung-over), or sat silently holding the phone as someone wept long held-back tears.

The group added a member and grew.

We led different lives. We moved different directions at various times--Alaska, Colorado, Michigan, Maryland, Kentucky, California, Kansas, Texas, Washington D.C., Indiana. Some of us married, and some divorced. Some of us remarried. Some of us had children. Some of us had miscarriages. We've struggled with the illness of family, and the death of others who we've loved, and the painful closure of relationships which have left us reeling. But throughout the journey, we've held bonds to one another strong and deep and fierce and unending.

We've struggled together when we were angry with one another, or when we misunderstood one another, or when we felt alienated from one another. But we have not been afraid to name those realities, or if we were afraid we named them anyway.

I wear a gold wedding band on my right hand, right underneath my engagement ring. It is a ring which symbolizes my commitment to my sisters, to the women who will live across or down the hall from me at Timbercrest Retirement Home when we get to be about 86. In the summer of 2002 we had a blessing service for these rings, symbols to remind us of the women who will never abandon or forsake us, women who promise to be our sisters even on the other side of the veil.


Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Literary Baby Food


Grayson has a baby book that he got from his Grammy and Papa for Easter. It's a Golden Book about barnyard animals which was copyrighted in 1953 and has all sorts of deep comments like, "Baby Cow is called a calf. She says, 'Mooooo! It is time for lunch.'"

I love this book for several reasons, the first of which is it's 1950s optimism. On the farm all the animals are smiling. They are almost giddy with delight as they all sit in one happy meadow with big, sappy donkey and billy goat and guinea pig smiles on their happy animal faces. But, more importantly, I remember this as a Golden Book from my childhood, and simplistic as it is, I love that Grayson is learning the sweetness of the animals, the different things animals do (i.e. "Baby cats are called kittens...at night the farmer gives them cow's milk, and they curl up together in the big red barn..." or "Baby chickens are called chicks. They cannot swim. Mother says we must look for worms and stay out of the water,' they reply."). How much sweeter can life get? It's like one big animal commune (without the illicit drugs and sex).

There is no talk of what will ultimately happen to some of the aforementioned farm animals. There is no worry about hormone levels in meat, or mad cow disease. Instead, goats frolic and puppies chew harmless old generic shoes and no one ever says "Bad Dog!" It was a kinder, simpler time. 1953. Our boys were home from war. Our Rosie the Riveters had made their way back into their kitchens. Dick and Jane were happily playing on their bikes while Sally pedaled her tricycle. Safety and security were paramount in the nation's mind.

Of course we know differently now. The world still had it's anguish. All across the country there was rampant homophobia, sexism, racism. The myth of the 1950s works for those who had an upper-middle-class white background and that myth of the 1950s can in some ways still haunt us today as we realize all that was glossed over to paint a perfect picture of a decade.

But, I still confess to loving the illustrations by Garth Williams in Golden Books. There's something simple and comforting to me about this Golden Book mentality for a baby. It's like spoon-feeding them rice cereal. All is mild. All is mellow. All is simple. All is one-grained. All promises the familiar. It is as if we say to our infants, "This is all the pap you can take for now, and for now, it's all I want you to have."

The day will come soon enough when we talk with our boy about war and death and loss and evil. The day will come when we talk about the responsiblities Grayson has for changing the world and making it a more open and tolerant place for the next generation. The day will come when the mantle falls upon his shoulders. I know this. And I will preach this. And I will commit myself to being a parent who instills in her son the importance of public service and of being a disciple of the one who taught us radical love.

But for today, just for today, the main concern in his world is that the baby guinea pigs who live in the hutch have suspicions that the white rabbit has been up to mischief. And the only mischief that Grayson knows is that the white rabbit stole some carrots from the farmer's garden.

"And this is enough evil for today," I say, as I spoon another serving of Gerber's rice cereal into his baby-bird-like open mouth.

And he smiles fearlessly, trusting that I will give him only what he is ready to taste.



Monday, August 13, 2007

Random Factoids from Sitemeter

Remember how I mentioned that I was sort of waiting for the writing fairy to come and give me some words? Well, despite the fact that I check every morning under my pillow, there are no words gathered there hoarded away under my goose-feathered nest. I've checked multiple times. I did, however, find a handkerchief and one long-missing earplug, so it wasn't a total loss, this not being creative.

However, I wouldn't want to fail you, interneties. And so, I thought I'd share with you what your internet cohorts are doing...what your fellow readers are looking for when they read me. You see, I have this wonderful tool at my hands (a tool you probably have too, if you click the sitemeter button at the bottom of this website, yes?). This tool, allows you to figure out how people got to your site.

Now, most of you come willingly. You come because you know me and like to take pity on a blogger. Or, you come because I'm linked to another website you like and you want to know what the fuss is, or isn't. Or, you come because I updated on blogger at just the right time and the "next blog" button was too enticing to not hit. Or you come because you remembered me from Ms. Longtine's English class at Paul Harding High School and you want to see if I still have bangs which I blow-dry into billowy, cloudy, puffs (I don't). Or you are a Brethren lurker who wonders about those sheep who have strayed from the denominational fold (it's actually nice out here in the fresh air...and we have wine at our parties...).

But, some of you come to this site not out of willingness, but out of necessity. You come because there are things you are desperate to know, and you hit the google search engine folks up for answers and somehow they direct you to me. You are the folks who want to know more about Ernest Ainsley. And I can tell you nothing, apart from the fact that I truly thought this was his name because I saw his home somewhere in Akron, Ohio once but, alas despite having seen his home and making fun of his lack of a neck and pronunciation of the word "Jeeezzus" I, obviously don't know near enough to be a google expert, as I cannot even spell his name properly.

You may come because you're searching for the answer to your query "Christian How to Handle Stalking." And for some reason my site flipped across your radar (and I know this because it's exactly what was typed into Google according to sitemeter and am still puzzling at how my site was one of the first to appear for this query). In response to this stalking question, though, I must weight in. I can simply say a few sentences, friend who asked, and the most important one is this: Jesus doesn't like stalking. He thinks it is very, very bad. Please stop doing it. When we ask WWJD? The answer is plain: Jesus doesn't stalk his friends. Does Jesus drink with his friends? Perhaps, given the water to wine story. Does Jesus go on road trips with his friends? Definitely, given his many sojourns with the funky fab twelve. But does Jesus stalk? Absolutely not. No evidence. The Bible says it, I believe it, that settles it. Stop doing it. You're making Jesus sad. You're making him cry. Really.

For the one who found me after googling, "pregnant hungry don't know what I want," I can only say, "Bless you my sister, may you find the perfect food in your moment of need...and if this is difficult, may I remind you that you cannot go wrong with strawberry poptarts." And if you are the partner of aforementioned pregnant woman may I say even more heartily, "God bless you, my brother or sister, for caring enough to google this ever elusive issue. And again, I remember that strawberry poptarts could scratch the appetite itch in the first trimester far better than any healthy option ever could. Now, go with God. And don't forget that footrubs will place stars in your crown before you make your way to St. Peter's gate."

I'm still waiting on that 'ole Word Fairy, pesky creature that she is.

And I'll let you know the moment she deposits erudite thoughts on this weary servant's head.


Sunday, August 05, 2007

Four Months


Dear Sweet Boy of Mine,

On July 28, 2007 you turned 4-months-old and I continue to marvel at the wonder that is you.

Your "aaahs" and "ooohs" have turned into "mmmsss" and "bbbbssss" and "ddddssss." Your mouth continues to fascinate you endlessly and the fact that you can stuff objects into it (your hands, my hand, your spit-up rags, your blanket edges, your duck toy) causes you to pause in astonishment as if you had recently invented waffle irons or some such kitchen marvel.

While you're still not rolling over, you are a champ of what the pediatric experts refer to as a "stabilized neck." Your father and I think you're simply so serene, such a Buddha baby that you have no need to roll over for pleasure. Why contort your body, really, when there is so much amazing stuff that just comes naturally whilst you like on your back in your play gym? Monkeys dangle. Elephants jiggle. Birds perch over you. Giraffes stare at you with big googly eyes. What need is there to change the natural order of Grayson at the center of it all by twisting over? I mean really?

Of course, as your mother, I did lament this slight delay on your part; after all the rules-bound baby manuals say that you should and if you should than who I am, a lowly chaplain, to judge? But, your pediatrician reminded me this week that you're doing great, he said that rolling over was no big deal yet, and that I should, well, I should perhaps relax a little bit.

Grayson, we need to have a heart-to-heart here and now. Of the two parents you have, I am perhaps the, um, less relaxed. You might want to make a mental note of that. Your dad is pretty laid back. He takes things at face value, accepts things for what they are, watches things with a detached (and I mean that in the most mentally healthy way) perspective before jumping to scary conclusions. He's probably the first person to talk to after you have that first sip of beer when you're at a high school party, or the one who you run to when you crash your bicycle and think that there may be a chance you've fractured a wrist. He's your go-to man when it comes to creepy-crawly insects in your room, and the one who will be the most help if we ever had an alien abduction situation in our home (and not just because he's the calm one, but because he's watched so many damn documentaries about UFOs and the like before falling asleep at night). 'Cause your mom, well, she's sort of an obsessive sort, and she may, well, panic.

I'll give you an early example...when your dad and I play with your play gym with you we like to jiggle it with our foot or hand and make the dangling characters move, which makes you laugh. When your dad does this he laughs along with you and says, "Grayson, look, they're dancing!" Such a happy idea. But, um, when I do it, I realize that I shake them and say, "Uh-Oh! Earthquake!" or "Look! An Avalanche!" And I realize my face is already set in a grimace. Shit. I'm already hitting the panic button for you. Your poor jungle animals have already endured endless natural disasters thanks to your worry-wart of a mother. Again, just remember to go to Daddy with that first fender bender, and I'll work on that fear issue in my next therapy session.

This month you have mastered the art of rice cereal. Now, I never knew that there was such an incredible "art" to rice cereal until, in hindsight, I compared your first encounter with it on July 3rd to your present gifted skills. While you used to mouth it, pout, spit it out and cry (all the while inhaling the cereal only to exhale it out your nose in a post-cereal fit), you now open your mouth expectantly and snarf down the whole damn bowl as soon as it is offered. A Peter Rabbit bowl has never been scraped as cleanly as your dishes are. Your dad and I have big plans with you soon...big plans which involve oatmeal cereal and strained green beans. It doesn't take much to excite us.

You spent your first complete night away from us two nights ago. It was a sudden decision, as I was sick, sick with a nasty flu virus and Daddy was busy with hauling your sisters all over for ballet rehersals and had been caring for you nonstop for days. Grammy and Papaw agreed to host you for an overnight and you were a wonderful guest...sleeping through the night and snuggling with Grammy before bed and giving her one of your stellar Dick Cheney/Munchkin smiles right before drifting off.

You also got to meet the aunties this month. The aunties are the women who sustain your mommy, who have been part of your mommy's life for over 13 years and who remind her that she has a network of women who will always love her and nurture her, and you. You have two godmothers, both part of the women's group, and you have taken to them like white on rice (the picture is of you with your godmommy/auntie Cheri). I hope some day you'll understand the power of the village which raised you.

I love you, my sweet. I love you more than you know, and I keep watching and wondering as you unfold and unfurl who you will become.

Mommy




Top Ten Reasons I Haven't Posted Lately


10. Grayson has begun gurgling incessantly and that "mamamamamama" sound has melted me into a zombified mush of mommylove unable to do much more than stare lovingly at those bow lips as they repeat those consonants.

9. I've been madly looking for a new home for Cooper the Wondercat who is not weathering the transition to big brother very well. This requires super sleuthing skills and a fair amount of begging and wheedling. All, so far, to no avail. Anyone want a beautiful 21 lb. ball of furry love?

8. One word: Influenza.

7. Delighting last weekend in the love of my sisters as they all descended on the greater metropolitan area of Fort Wayne for our annual retreat. Drinking phenomenal wines. Eating sinfully delicious foods (in addition to cheetos, which are sinfully delicious in their own orange way). Laughing deep belly laughs. Remembering how much grounding they give me.

6. Practicing the proper way to say the word "grocery."

5. Washing, drying, folding, and putting away 4,392 lbs. of baby spit rags. Only to begin again after the next feeding.

4. Listening to my patients. And then listening some more. And then coming home so very tired from hard listening that I worry I'm not listening well to my family.

3. Obsessing over childcare options now that R. will be returning to work in the end of August.

2. Walking each evening (before encountering aforementioned deadly number 8) for an hour and a half while counting the number of wild rabbits I see (top number: 18).

And the Top Ten Reason I Haven't Posted Lately...

Writer's block. A big and bad case of it. Let's hope the writing fairy appears soon and grants me some words.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

The Crazy Cat Lady

We all know a "crazy cat lady." The stereotype is ubiquitous. She is the "old maid" bachelorette. She is the saucy "old lady." She is the woman who just couldn't say no to "just one more." She is the myth that all women of a certain age want to avoid.

But, the reality is, she is within us. Within many of us. And while we may be happily married with children, she lives and reigns within and even with only two feline babies, I mean cats, she dwells happily in the realm of our home on S. drive.

And so, I can share with you my tale of cat mommy-woe, because you will have sympathy on a confessional cat woman, a story I have withheld for lo these many weeks because, well, it shamed me as a cat worshiper to have to tell this tale.

Cooper, that would be my 21 lb. plus (I mean who counts the ounces really...) tomcat and I had a little, well let's call it an "accident" recently. I was sitting on the couch, having just fed the real baby in this house (that would be Grayson, not the miniature dachshund), when Cooper happened to wander across my lap, and noticing his vast array of matted fur spots, I decided to do what I often do, which is to cut them out with my kitchen scissors (which I must mention I've done at least 437 times before). I pulled the hair on his back up to make the process easier, grabbed a hank of it and cut. Success. He changed position, I repeated the process, but Cooper turned and hissed. I shushed him, shamed him for hissing at Mommy, and he quickly walked back toward me to be groomed again. I lifted the hair on his back to finish my task and noticed a gash, oh, about half an inch deep. No, really. I had cut into his back quite deeply, and all he did was hiss.

And then return to the scene of the crime.

Did I mention Cooper was not, well, not so bright? He was, after all, hit by a moped in his early years, but that's another story.

But, let's remember that he did come back when called. What a good boy is he?!? Robert calls him less than good, more stupid, but I prefer to reflect that my cat simply follows directions well.

The bleeding was, surprisingly mild, and Miss B. came to the resuce with a towel immediately. R. stayed home with the baby boy and Cooper and I were off for the Emergency vet clinic, where Cooper ended up between the hours of 9:30 p.m. and midnight on a certain June night with seven staples and emergency surgery to the tune of approximately $200.00. I, of course, cried throughout the emergency vet visit, apologizing profusely while the sweet young thing of a vet reassured me that I was still a good a good cat mommy, but, I wanted to insist to her, "You didn't see how trustingly he walked back to me when I already had the shears of death in my hands...You don't understand how I suck, I truly suck."

Yesterday Cooper had his stitches removed by his regular vet who love, love, loves him and has been through multiple cat sagas with him (i.e. the broken hip of 2005, and the notorious cat-bite situation shortly thereafter where he mistakenly confused me with an evil predator out to deceive him and bit me viciously requiring an ER visit [by me, not him]). Dr. F. gently educated me about grooming tools, lest I ever decide to tear matted fur off my boy again, and she stroked and petted Cooper until he was hypnotized. The moment of ecstasy came for me when the veterinary assistant whispered that his staple removal and grooming was "on the house."

Today I came home with a new tool for Cooper...the "underbrush grooming rake," as recommended by Dr. F. As promised, big hunks of tangled fur came off my shedding boy, and Cooper purred in ecstasy.

So, my title as "Crazy Cat Lady" will be unchallenged for at least the next few months.

And we'll hope that Grayson's sneezing fit as I groomed the cat was completely unrelated to cat allergies. Because I simply can't go there yet.

Monday, July 09, 2007

Surprises

So, you've been married for four years. You're used to the little idoscyncracies of your spouse. You love that he has this quirky habit of having to load the dishwasher a certain way, and that the remote controls must always remain in the same place. He loves that you wear his T-shirts to bed and say "grocery" in a white-trashy, showin'-your-Appalachian-roots-kinda-way, making the "ce" sound like "sh."

In that four years you think you know each other pretty damn well.

And then one night, out of the blue you hear him read, "Is Your Mama a Llama?"to your 3-month-old son in a rap-style reminiscent of a young Rev. Run from the early years of Run DMC and you think, "My God, I never knew he had it in him..." And, alas, you fall in love all over.

Such are the joys of enduring love. Baby board books elicit passion. Who would have thunk?

Sunday, July 08, 2007

Standing Outside the Gate

I keep having this dream. The same dream for the past week. In it, my college roommate, the one who I thought would be my sister until we we were at least 93 and dyed our hair blue and drove under the speed limit the three blocks to church, and I are back in college. But time has passed and we are the grown women we are now, and in the dream I keep looking for her as she was then, a girl of 20, and realize that she is purposely avoiding me, and when I find her she is standing with some of her family around her, and she is whispering at me, and pointing at me and tells me emphatically that she cannot be my friend anymore, for I am not right with God.

This is the recurring dream. Although sometimes we're in our college dorm's lobby, and sometimes we're in Kohl's Department Store, and sometimes we're on a beach, and sometimes we're in an airport. The location changes but the dream stays the same. The recognition and then the shunning.

This roommate of the dream has, indeed, for all intents and purposes shunned me from her life. When I divorced my first husband she was angry, and she had a right to be angry on his behalf. However, her anger led her to abandonment and the nail in the coffin came with a letter several months after R. and I were married in response to a letter I wrote her asking her whether we could ever be friends again, and telling her how angry I was at her for not listening to me. Her response was this, "
You eloquently express your anger and I guess I can't blame you. But the only thing for which I apologize is a lack of clarity in my witness." Her 'witness' meant that I was the woman who was to be abandoned, and that our relationship, the one which sustained me for lo those many years meant nothing and was a big misunderstanding on my part. Her witness meant that she could not continue to associate with a woman who sought a divorce, a woman who sought to find her own path, a woman who, she believed, had failed to fulfill her marriage vows.

I have come to understand as I have grown and changed and analyzed more of life that in my dreams she represents not just that woman who abandoned me, but the conservative church which she has come to represent (and I believe would claim), a church which has seemed unwilling to allow
me to change and grow with it, a church that, it seems is afraid of the questioning and questing I have needed to do, and which I believe it might need to do too.

I pastored a church for six years. I gave my heart to them. I was married more to the church than I was to my husband at the time. When I divorced it was greeted with some reluctance, but ultimately accepted. When I remarried, I was suspect. My sins were too transparent, questions were too rampant, not enough time had passed. These were valid concerns, and perhaps I deserved the disapproval which I received. Perhaps I didn't deserve to pastor a church anymore. Perhaps I am paying my penance now by being an outsider, merely staring in as I wonder if I will ever have a home in my denomination again. Perhaps, like Eve, I have been cast out of the garden of Eden.

The dreams, they continue to plague me. The insommnia lately leads me down the hall away from my sleeping husband to read, to write, to fill the dark hours with my crossword puzzles. Perhaps I will always stare longingly through the gate's bars at those who are welcomed into the bosom of my denomination, or perhaps I am a better prophet outside its walls where I am allowed to speak freely, and ask questions honestly, and voice my anger appropriately without fear of what others will say, without fear of the promotion that may or may not come, the church that may or may not call me to pastor, the questions about my intergrity for what I write, or the irreverence with which I face life, or the intoxicating beverages I choose to drink.

I long to be a faithful servant. I struggle to be a disciple of the radical teacher who preached love at all costs. I am learning to internalize the grace that God so abundantly offers, even if it has been denied by those who I thought loved me without question.

I read somewhere that each voice in our dreams is part of our subconscious mind speaking its own truth, and so there may be buried within me a voice, critical of my path, condemning of the pain I've caused others, aware of my weaknesses and my sins and my inadequacies.

I still stand at the gate, and wonder what it would be like to feel like an insider, to have been born and bred Brethren, to have turned away from the fruit that was offered and to be content in the garden of Eden forever. But perhaps my truth is clearer on the outside, and perhaps there is the model of a prophet who could not be heard in his own town to whom I must attend. And perhaps I do more good outside the garden, with others like me who have survived the pains of exclusion and still found grace.

I still don't know. And the voices in my dreams at night still haunt me. And while I know God offers abundant grace, I know that in the fiber of my being, I obviously have not allowed myself to accept it just yet. Because the condemnation, it still echoes too loudly in my skull.

My college roommate ended our correspondence by telling me she would pray for me. I hope those weren't just empty words.



Friday, July 06, 2007

Moses's Wardrobe

Today, on my day off, I finally got around to catching up on details that had been lagging for months...thank-you notes for baby gifts (if any of you gift givers are reading--I'm sorry, sorry, sorry for being so late in responding...it's just that there's been a baby and all...), leftover Texas trip laundry, scooping cat litter boxes, making a trip to the credit union, drinking my weight in chai tea, you know...the same old, same old.

But, there was this little niggling thing that has been hanging over my head since about January...the issue of the fundamentalist Christian resale store and the state of my maternity clothes. You see, in mid-January I dropped off a whole shit-load of maternity clothes I had grown out of and which had been worn about, oh, once before I grew out of them. I dropped them off that day when it was snowing and now, you see, it's near 90 degrees. So, it's time to do something. For lo, it is now summer.

In my defense, the official little form they gave me when I dropped the clothes off to be considered for resale said (and I'm quoting directly here...) "Once we have evaluated your items, we will then call you with two purchase offers, consignment or store credit. At that time you may choose the offer that best fits your needs. If we do not reach you, we will leave a message or continue calling until one or the other has been achieved. Therefore, it is not necessary to call regarding your items. We happily take this responsibility in an effort to make the process less complicated for you and your family."

So, you know, I got fatter. And then I had a kid. And then I took good care of that kid. And winter turned to spring and spring turned to summer and, lo and behold, I never heard from fundamentalist Christian resale shop (where all the proceeds seem to go to wacky Christian sectarian groups). And, they did say they would "happily take on this responsibility." I imagined the little fundie ladies with their hair in tight buns, wearing modest clothing and whistling as they sorted and tagged and labeled my merchandise and then anticipated a chatty, friendly phone call in due time. So, today...today on this 6th of July I placed a little call to the business which I shall refer to as Moses's Wardrobe, the happy place which had, sadly, never taken their appointed responsibility as promised.

Mr. Moses himself answered his phone and when I explained my dilemma, the not hearing from them, and the wondering what happened with all my shit, I mean stuff (cause I care about not hurting a fundamentalist Christian's ears), Mr. Moses said, "I have no record of it." When I explained that I had the little "Buying Policy" receipt thing and that, certainly, they must have SOME record, after all I did fill out that little 3x5 card with my name and address, I was told quite unhappily, "I have no record." I took a deep breath and asked Mr. Moses to please look through his records. And I was put on hold. For a long time. A long time.

And...Mr. Moses, he did come back on the line and ask if I, was "Christian." I figured, being a fundy establishment it wouldn't hurt to answer to that misnomer. He said, "Well, I talked to you and you said we could sell the following items..." and he named about a third of what I dropped off. I politely told him that he never spoke with me. And he said, "Oh yes I did." And I said, "Ah, no, we never spoke." And he said, "Yes, I did" with an oh-so-certain tone. And I said, "I would have remembered, and would have picked up the items you did not want to sell." This led into a firm and emphatic, "No, I spoke with you." I paused, thinking, "What the hell happened to 'the customer is always right?'" There was silence on the line. "Ma'am," Moses said, "I talked to you." And the way he said it insisted that he, Mr. Moses, who has never given birth but who owns a maternity store was right. Finally, in exasperation I said, "I am not crazy!"

We were getting nowhere. Grayson was crying loudly for a bottle. The dog was whining in her cage. I had to pee. Universes were colliding. I couldn't fight the patriarchy anymore. "Fine," I said. And that was that.

R., overhearing our little exchange, overhearing my voice rising higher and higher (and I swear, I am by no means a hysterical person) said, "You want me to call?" I think R. knew by then that when dealing with conservative men who think that they can win in a verbal argument by simply speaking louder and with more emphasis, having a penis might have its advantages in the patriarchal world.

R., having aforementioned necessary penis and deep voice, phoned and said three important words. Better Business Bureau. And mean Christian man seemed to perk up a little bit. We'll see what unfolds.

It was only later that I realized my problem. I didn't remind Mr. Moses of how much Jesus was crying about the way he was treating a fellow Christian. Or perhaps I didn't walk into the shop in a prairie skirt with my hair in a Nazarene french braid. Or maybe he just whiffed the scent of the secular humanist within me and knew I voted for John Kerry in the last election. Maybe he saw my "Peace is Patriotic" bumper sticker, or had an inkling that I once volunteered for NARAL and decided it was easy to write me off since I would certainly burn in hell in due time.

Moral of the story: Moses's Wardrobe sucks.

And Jesus doesn't like liars, Mr. Moses. And he may even have voted for John Kerry. So there.

And now, Mr. Moses, I need to go to bed so I can ask forgiveness for my mean thoughts about you. And compliment myself on not using your store's real name in this post, 'cause even those of us without penises do have some integrity.