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 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 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 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. 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.

Contemplative Chaplain