Saturday, March 23, 2013

Good Advice with a Side of Cheetos

An old, tired mom and her new baby.
My friend Ginny, who is a lovely by the way, and a thoughtful, humble and honest blogger, recently wrote a piece called, A Letter to Young Mothers on her blog Cheetos for Breakfast that sort of exploded. She’s being kind of cagey about exactly how many hits she’s received, but it’s a lot. She has 137 (with a bullet) comments on it… and I’m not shy about saying I’m jealous! Folks rarely comment on my blog! But… I’m not supposed to compare myself to others, right?

I’m guessing I've never gotten that kind of response because maybe I’ve never written a post that was so meaningful to so many… You see, it’s about motherhood, and the pressure young mothers feel from within and from without – that is, from other parents – to do it right. Breast or bottle? Stay at home or work? Attachment parenting or … whatever the alternative is…? Plus all the other methods and advice people love to share....

"Help! I forgot how to nurse!"
(my first big mom anxiety attack)
As with all her topics, Ginny addresses it with the wisdom and grace of one with much experience in living and in wallowing in God’s endless supply of grace. She feels our pain, she shares the mercy she’s received from on high.

Because as I mentioned yesterday in my “horrible mother”rant, moms need grace… even moms who are NOT horrible need grace. Momming is the hardest job there is. In contrast to Ginny, who is younger than I and has four kids that are mostly grown, when I had my baby I was already old and tired. I was gung-ho, but … only within the parameters of my flagging energy and limited mental capacity. I made decisions based on… well, really, just trying to do the best I could. I knew breast feeding was good for my child, plus it would help me lose the baby weight, so of course I did it. I may be well over my anorexia, but I’m no fool!

Both my husband and me are the product of stay-at-home-moms who probably would have been saner had they worked… so after my eight-week maternity leave, I continued to work. Besides, our budget pretty much requires the second income I bring in. As for attachment parenting, that was a no brainer. I’d like to have seen someone try to DE-tach me from my baby!
Attachment parenting? I'd like to see
you try to detach me from this baby!

That is not to say I was not, or am not, worried about “doing it right” when it comes to parenting. Because I most certainly am! But as I said, because I was old when my kid was born, I sort of bypassed some of the hyper-hyper-anxiety that comes with being a mom, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t worry or feel pressure. I absolutely did. I worried when my child forgot how to breastfeed and failed to plump up as he should. I worried whenever he got a rash or swollen glands or a scratch or a cold or blazing red bottom or mealy yellow diarrhea or … just about anything.

Being older also gave me the advantage of being the only one I knew with a kid that age. Beside the moms at Bill’s preschool, who seemed to have similar parenting outlooks, I didn’t have anyone scrutinizing my every parenting move, telling me I was doing it wrong. So I had that going for me. In a state of sleep-deprived grouchiness, my husband would occasionally say something judgy, but what did he know? No more than I did. He was grasping at straws same as me. And, I wonder now if even parents who belligerently champion one parenting method or another are standing on ground just as shaky – they just want to believe they know what is right.

As for parenting advice, I’ve received and followed and / or ignored selected advice from a lactation specialist, our pediatrician, a nutritionist, Barry Sears, John Rosemond, my mom, other moms, my sister, my best friend, old friends, the American Academy of Pediatrics… Unless it is a strictly medical dilemma (and maybe not even then!), not every tip or recommendation works for every parent and child. I know I’m inexperienced and all, but I feel that I, along with my husband, can make these kind of choices regarding how to live out this heavy – but also quite light – job of being Bill’s mom... as only someone who lives in this house with this particular child can.

Highlight, underline and put
brackets around Micah 6:8.
And while that view certainly smacks of relativism, I am no relativist when it comes to God matters – specifically this word of knowledge that Ginny recommended in her fab post: “He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” (Micah 6:8)

It’s simple. But it’s also difficult. I mean, you still have to decide what comprises acting justly, and what mercy looks like. I guess walking humbly is necessary because you certainly have to be open to the notion that your idea of justice and mercy could be wrong…

Anyway, I love Ginny for bringing this up, because it just happens to be good advice for any person in just about any situation, and to see it applied to the most challenging job ever… well, it really helped. Because Ginny knows. She feels our pain, Moms. Guess that’s why so many folks read that post of hers…

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Hardest Lent Ever

A trip to Williamsburg without
one of these? May it never be!
I’ve already reported the difficulty I was having with keeping my Lenten vow of giving up my own agenda in order to be present for my child… to listen to him, to look when he says, “Look!” … Well, it’s less than two weeks to Easter and I am here again to report that I have failed utterly. I know there is still time to make an effort in this area, but I’m actually not sure I’m up to it.

When I was sifting through the possibilities of what to give up for Lent, I toyed with several ideas, mostly of the giving up some kind of thing to eat or drink variety. But, honestly, I thought it would be too hard. Every time I give up sweets it just makes me crazy. Giving up fries… well, I thought that would be doable, but maybe not hard enough…? Giving up alcohol… ? Well, I’m not a drunk, for sure. But I do love a good beer or glass of wine with dinner sometimes. And if I am totally candid with you, I thought about how we’re going to Williamsburg right before Easter and I didn’t like imagining myself eating at Huzzah’s without ordering this cute little local beer sampler they serve, or going to the Dog Street Pub and not trying some interesting Irish or Scottish beverage. Now that right there tells you alcohol would have been a good thing to give up. But I just didn’t want to.

Instead I told myself I would exercise the discipline of dropping everything to listen to my child. How in the world did I think this would be easier than giving up alcohol, sugar or fries? I am here to tell you that giving up all three would have been easier than this herculean task.

Bill at the Dog Street Pub 
with his butterbeer.
(Relax, it's non-alcoholic.)
I’m not kidding, my kid has a LOT to say. He tells stories about things that happened that day or years ago, spinning out an impossible web of details and character motivations. He can talk for hours on end. Literally. Yesterday he talked for several hours about an event that lasted maybe an hour… and happened three years ago on a vacation to Williamsburg… an elaborate tale involving a battle between factions of kids at the pool at the Woodlands hotel, water balloons and boats made from pool noodles. (Scroll down to an exact transcript of his oration about the boy-girl wars of second grade. Kids names have been obscured to protect the "innocent." Keep in mind that this is merely a 10-minute excerpt, then multiply it exponentially to get a feel for what it's like to hear this for several hours.)

A rare shot of Bill NOT talking
Sometimes I tell him I can’t listen anymore and he says, “You don’t have to listen.” Then he keeps on talking. But you know what? Not only can’t I listen to it all… I can’t stand to hear it. I’ve been told by moms of older kids that when he gets older, I will long for him to talk to me… But having this head knowledge doesn’t seem to keep me from wanting to put in ear buds and listen to the Who while he’s talking.

Yesterday I told him he ought to write a blog since he had so much to say, but he dismissed this, saying, “I’d rather talk.” Like I didn’t know that. I’m pretty sure all this means I’m a horrible mom. Like I didn’t know that either. In case you are getting the wrong idea, I do love the little rascal. He's creative, funny, sweet and as smart as a whip. He is a gift from the Living God. I know this. When I check on him in his bed at night I have to resist the urge to cover his face with kisses. Sometimes I don't resist the urge. BUT... I also know that I either need to figure out … how to listen to him… or how to get him to reign in the chitchat. Either one is going to take a miracle... and/or lots of grace.

Again, I’m a horrible mom… and horrible moms need grace… lots of grace. And even though I can’t fulfill this Lenten vow, I have definitely learned a lot about my need for God’s grace.

It all started with the first attack, which would soon be known to be a horrifying thing. It wasn’t horrifying then, but later we know what it turned into. So it all started when three girls thought it would be HILARIOUS to run up to a boys kickball game and start screaming, “We’re going to hug you.” 
And, well, at that time, I had this really cool hat that I could see through, and I put it over my face and I didn’t move, so no one could see my face, but I wasn’t moving just in case I couldn’t see something. So I crept over near the battle and hid in a bush. Well, I took my hat off and crept over there and put it back on and hid in a bush. And I watched them chase. And then my hat fell off and blew away and I ran after it. One of the girls saw me, but I grabbed my hat and, like, dived into the soccer field into the middle of a soccer game so they couldn’t see me. 
Then they did it to a boys soccer game, then the boys did it back on one of these weird play things that the girls did. And soon it became a terrifying war, but that was after this. Because when they attacked the girls’ play thing it was a pretty big battle. It was the biggest battle so far. Not the biggest, but the one that had most of the chaos so far. But who knows what was yet to come. Then Christmas break started. When we came back there was a whole new boy army – except 2 recruits that had been there a long time ago: myself and my friend Henry. The army was Connor H--, Patrick B--, Luca K--, me and Henry K--, who is my best friend. And then we started fighting the same girls, except we heard of some trouble brewing near a place that… Well, no one who’s friends with me or Henry should ever go there. It’s called the Red Dome of Doom. All of me and henry’s enemies hang out there. They usually hang out there and stuff. They always try to catch us in it, but they never really can because we always escape. 
There was trouble brewing over there, but there was a war going on so we couldn’t pay attention to it. We just didn’t know who was causing the trouble. And then? The worst battle yet! Chaos! It was everything. People running around yelling that they were going to hug each other. At this point in the war, people actually had started being fast enough to actually hug people. It was really crazy. It was a huge battle.
Then, I figured out what the trouble was. Right when we started, there was a yell called, “Reinforcements! Come!” And then, suddenly, out of the red dome… Lauren P--, Lauren F--, Georgia S-- and Claire Heetderks joined the huge fight, lots of boys, but then, at the very end we were still outnumbered. Lauren P-- was actually threatening to kiss people. And so that’s when I tripped – I felt doomed. Because she was right near me. And right when she was swooping down, I shot a gumball under her foot and she slipped and then I ran as fast as a fox.
The battle continued on for several recesses until the boys and girls finally just couldn’t stand the same battle going over and over. Patch was losing command and he quit, then the all the battles - everything pretty much stopped. There was a moment of peace ‘til the trouble started brewing again… near where it always brewed – the red dome. Then the three last very, very loyal tired soldiers continued the longing fight of the boy-girl wars – me, Bill Moore… that’s what I’m called, that’s what my name is… Henry K-- and Luca K--. They’re all some of my greatest friends now. We ran up and battled some of the first soldiers til they quit. All except one. And Lauren P-- rose an army of some more. She got some more to join her. Abigail is the only one I can think of, but there were some more. So Evie, Grace and Louie had quit, but it was still lots of other girls. They had quit because they couldn’t take it anymore and they had practically surrendered. 
Then we had a huge battle, all along, and then we had maybe what I’d call a mortal blow. They started going after our last and best and our favorite base. Our only base. It’s called West Tower. It was a climbing wall and you could see pretty far. It had been our only base when we had to retreat. We had kept girls captive there and done things like that. And then the girls were coming. I took a map and ran and buried it – don’t really know the exact spot now. Then we had a huge battle and the worst thing happened there – West Tower became the girls’. Then we had huge, huge battles on the thing – Lauren P-- had a really big army at that time. It was on the play structure. Lauren P-- had a really big army – they were really violent. And so, we had to get special people. We couldn’t carry on with just three people. We had to get people in first grade, because I was in second grade at that time – Their names were Trey… Trey was my old best friend but he got held back then I met Henry. Trey had two friends. As a very last resort, Garrett and Seb. But then, the battles continued and fought and then we had summer vacation and when we came back we made a peace treaty and then other wars came.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Fate Worse than Death?

Jephthah's unfortunate
My journey through the Bible, which, I’ll admit, sometimes feels like a slog, uncovers some pretty crazy things. Right now I’m in Judges, and I’d hazard a guess that as craziness goes, this book has a high percentage. The other day I read Judges 11, which includes this ever-perplexing tale of woe:
Jephthah made a vow to the Lord: “If you give the Ammonites into my hands, whatever comes out of the door of my house to meet me when I return in triumph from the Ammonites will be the Lord’s, and I will sacrifice it as a burnt offering.”
Then Jephthah went over to fight the Ammonites, and the Lord gave them into his hands. He devastated twenty towns from Aroer to the vicinity of Minnith, as far as Abel Keramim. Thus Israel subdued Ammon. 
When Jephthah returned to his home in Mizpah, who should come out to meet him but his daughter, dancing to the sound of timbrels! She was an only child. Except for her he had neither son nor daughter. When he saw her, he tore his clothes and cried, “Oh no, my daughter! You have brought me down and I am devastated. I have made a vow to the Lord that I cannot break.” 
 “My father,” she replied, “you have given your word to the Lord. Do to me just as you promised, now that the Lord has avenged you of your enemies, the Ammonites.  
But grant me this one request,” she said. “Give me two months to roam the hills and weep with my friends, because I will never marry.”
I have read this before, and have always had this question: “Who did he THINK was going to come out the door?” The only acceptable answer to this in my mind would be that maybe he expected a chicken or a goat to meander out. Anything else would just be wrong, a family member being the most painfully wrong, obviously. I mean, human sacrifices are just not a thing God’s people were supposed to do.

My point is, and I’m pretty sure you’ll agree, that Jephthah’s vow was the vow of a… well, choose any of the words my husband uses to describe bad, frustrating drivers: “moron,” “idiot,” “dumbass,” “stupid jerk”… you get the idea.

My second question is this: “Why didn’t he just figure out that God probably wouldn’t appreciate a human sacrifice, vow or no vow?” Well, I’m guessing the answer to this is that back in those days, people took vows super seriously. These days, we’re much more fast and loose with the truth and our promises. I try hard to be honest and keep my promises, but it’s something I have to commit to daily.

During the time of the Judges, the Israelites were struggling to gain control of this land that was full of other people who worshipped all kinds of things, in all kinds of ways. It is possible, I guess, that surrounded by all these Molech-worshipping child sacrificers, Jephthah decided that vow breaking was worse than human sacrificing.

My sweet grandmother,
bless her heart, was all
about us getting married.
I don’t know. I know that some Bible interpreters think he didn’t actually kill her, but condemned her to a life of virginity, because she said this: “Give me two months to roam the hills and weep with my friends, because I will never marry.”

That’s not my interpretation. I think she just thought that never getting married was a fate worse than death… which, if I understand correctly, was the way people thought in those days. After all, if you were a young gal in that society and didn’t get married, who was going to take care of you? In my observation, this has been a popular mindframe up to … well, pretty recently. For all I know, some people still think this way!

As a matter of fact, my grandmother, who, in her defense, was born in 1897, was pretty damn worried about me and my older sister, who continued to remain single despite her best efforts to coach us on the finer points of man-catching. (“Always wear pink or red – you will draw men like moth to a flame.”) When the first Gulf War rolled around, she actually suggested that we enlist so that we could meet eligible men! I know it seems like it, but I am not making that up.

You don't have to be old to think this way, either. I had a friend in college who was (is) BRILLIANT – extremely capable, academically. But her main objective was to meet the man who would be her husband. She would study in the Health Sciences library to place herself in the environs of potential mates – who also just happened to be future MDs.

According to my "list" my husband would be
an Evangelical Christian who looked like
one of the Horrors. Do you think that guy exists?
As a matter of fact, though I consider myself a modern woman, it took ME a while to enjoy being single and embrace the deliciousness of the freedom of it. But I did. I loved being able to go and do what I pleased. I had time for travel, classes, long workouts, intense Bible study… the ease of not having to share psychic space with another… And, honestly, now that I’m on this side of marriage, I miss those things sometimes. Because, it turns out, singleness is NOT a fate worse than death.

I once heard a pastor say that people should only get married if they can’t NOT get married. I took this to heart, and while some of my continuing singleness was due to just not being that attractive or interesting to guys, it was also my choice.

And when I finally did get married, it was because I couldn’t NOT.  And it has gone in a way that I completely could not have predicted. I fell in love with an old friend who did not meet some of the criteria on my imaginary checklist – he was not a pale, bone-thin, rock-and-roll looking guy who played guitar, and most of all, he was not an Evangelical Christian. This was my main requirement. But despite my “list” – some of which was silly, some of which was not, I came to that strange place our pastor spoke of – the place where I couldn’t NOT get married.

And this man I couldn’t NOT marry actually IS a Christian — we just express our faith in different ways. It was something I had to wrestle with, really. In fact I experienced quite a tragic case of bursitis in my hip during that time, and imagined it was from all my wrestling, like Jacob! In the end, I knew that not fitting into a certain Christian category does not negate one’s Christianity. And I was in love. Again, I just couldn’t NOT marry him. This pithy saying by Paul absolutely applied in my situation: "But if they cannot control themselves, they should marry, for it is better to marry than to burn with passion." (1 Corinthians 7:9)

Being married is sweet...
And marriage is pretty sweet. It has been a huge challenge in many ways – we were both older when we merged households, so learning to share physical and psychic space has been a stretch! But I have loved it. I love my husband, the companionship, the shared interests and experiences, the conversation, the laughter, the sex, the baby we made… so many things!

HOWEVER, while there is much about marriage to recommend it, not being married is hardly a fate worse than death. In fact, in I Corinthians 7:28, Paul says, “Yet those who marry will have worldly troubles, and I would spare you that.” Maybe Paul would have appreciated this song.

So… in Jephthah’s day, not being married = fate worse than death. In Paul’s teachings, not being married = preferable. Maybe it’s yet another way the gospel turned the world upside down…? “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” This is lovely and unprecedented in that day, to afford equal worth to all categories of Jesus lovers. 

Practically speaking, then, how were single women to take care of themselves? Were these single women supposed to suddenly start earning their own keep? Or was this the task of the new faith assembly called the church? I know they had common property and ate together, so maybe this was how it worked. 

... and look at this baby we made!
As usual, I really don’t know where I’m going with this… I do remember once, in my early twenties when I struggled with the desire to get married along with the absence of interested parties, I thought, “Maybe the only reason I want to get married is to prove that someone wants me.” Which is just silly. And I knew it… but a girl can’t really help how she feels.

What I did after this insight was to follow this directive from Matthew 6:33: “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” I didn’t consciously do it, but that’s what I spent my time doing in the years that followed. Of course I sought a lot of other things – like a living wage, health, sanity, entertainment and comfort… But also the Kingdom. Him. I tried to live in this verse: “For your Maker is your husband—the LORD Almighty is his name…” (Isaiah 54:5) 

You know the story about Martha and Mary in Luke 10 where Martha is busy in the kitchen but Mary is sitting at Jesus's feet? 
Can a gal be Martha and
Mary at the same time?
As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!” 
“Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”
Well, I look at my single days now as a nice long squat, learning at the feet of Jesus. And now that I am married and have to be in the kitchen sometimes, I try to keep it simple so that I still have time to spend with Him.

I'm not saying that my single years were not a lonely time, but they were also a rich and rewarding time. Because not being married … well, it’s totally not a fate worse than death.