Sunday, October 4, 2015

God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater by Kurt Vonnegut (book review)

God Bless You, Mr. RosewaterGod Bless You, Mr. Rosewater by Kurt Vonnegut
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Not my favorite Vonnegut novel, but worth reading for passages like this one:

"Hello, babies. Welcome to Earth. It's hot in the summer and cold in the winter. It's round and wet and crowded. At the outside, babies, you've got about a hundred years here. There's only one rule that I know of, babies-—God damn it, you've got to be kind."

That's what protagonist Eliot Rosewater, a rich philanthropist with PTSD, tells his estranged wife he's going to say at the baptism of two new babies in his community. Which is a great thing to say. But...why not show us the baptism rather than just talking about it on the phone? I felt like I'd metamorphosed into my ninth grade Writers' Workshop teacher as I read this novel. God Bless you, Mr. Vonnegut, but there's too much telling and not enough showing in this novel.

I know. I know. Who am I to criticize one of the best novelists (and human beings) ever, whose other works I admire so? But I kept thinking this would have made an excellent first draft of a great novel. Most of the characters in Rosewater are too two-dimensional for my taste. I like the idea of this novel better than the execution of it.

Recommended for die-hard Vonnegut fans. All others, stick with Slaughterhouse-Five or Cat's Cradle.

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Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee (book review) ***Updated with added thoughts***

Go Set a WatchmanGo Set a Watchman by Harper Lee
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When you elevate a human being to the status of a god, they will disappoint you. I was worried that this book, supposedly the sequel, or the first draft of Harper Lee's masterpiece To Kill a Mockingbird, would disappoint me. It did not. It's not as good as To Kill a Mockingbird, but nothing I have ever read, since I first read TKaM thirty years ago, is. It's my all-time favorite book. So when I heard that Lee's publisher was releasing Go Set a Watchman, my first reaction was oh shit, don't set your expectations too high!

To be honest, I dreaded reading Watchman. I was terrified that the author of my favorite book ever--the highest of gods in the author universe--would disappoint me. She did. A little. And she didn't. A lot. Just the way I like it. Just like life.

Watchman is, in a way, a more unvarnished version of To Kill a Mockingbird. It's about adult issues told from a young adult's perspective during a developmental stage in our lives when we realize that our parents and heroes make mistakes and have thoughts and feelings separate from us that many times we simply can't understand.

As I read Watchman I was like, huh, so Atticus isn't the flawless fictional hero we grew up thinking he was? His character is actually more fully human and complex. Yes, I wanted to slap him in the face, I felt so betrayed and disappointed in him. Just like Scout feels in the book. But to me, that's real life, and fiction that can show us real life in this light is amazing.

The timing of the book's release is interesting, too, not only because of the shady way her publishers may or may not have handled it, but also because it came out in a day when we're starting to acknowledge that, on a societal level, our heroes are imperfect, flawed human beings. Look at Bill Cosby, Josh Duggar, et al.

I recommend this book to people who love realistic fiction that tackles tough, complex issues with nuance and grace.

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Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Hey, Parents: Need support? Contact the National Parent Helpline®

Trigger warning: child abuse, murder, drug addiction

First off, I'm not into assigning blame. Well, except to the 1%. I'm pretty much always in favor of assigning blame to the 1%. So, if you're not into that sort of thing, I might suggest you take a hike to another site, because I'm just gonna piss you off.

I feel like assigning blame in big, complex problems is a waste of time. Yes, people should be held accountable for their crimes. I'm not saying let all the murderers and rapists move into my neighborhood, and start hanging out with me, and me loving them and some such shit. I'm not Jesus Christ. All human beings are essentially imperfect searching beams of energy just trying to figure out where we're heading. We're all to blame for making mistakes. Stupid mistakes. Hideous mistakes. Seemingly unforgivable mistakes. Basically look at your newsfeed and you'll see quite the array of angst and human suffering, most of it brought on by our stupid and hideous and seemingly unforgivable mistakes.

That's where I saw it, on my newsfeed. Have you heard the awful news about poor Baby Bella? One of her caregivers killed her because she was fussy at bedtime.

OK, probably not just fussy. As any parent knows, toddlers are prone to fits and temper tantrums. Especially at bedtime.

Baby Bella's caregivers thought she was possessed by demons. I kid you not. I mean, what caregiver hasn't thought the same thing about a child in front of them with flailing arms and legs who keeps knocking her head into the hardwood floor? But most of us don't kill our kids, even if we occasionally wonder if they're demonic. Thank God. Thank education. Thank our instincts. Thank the energy that connects us all and what have you.

Two-year-olds who scream and throw fits at bedtime are not actually possessed by demons. Two-year-olds who scream and throw fits at bedtime are healthy, normal kids who are acting completely developmentally appropriately in a culture that, for a little over a hundred years had "experts" telling parents that they should not tend to their child's every whim for fear of raising a spoiled brat, and that allowing a child to sleep in bed with you will lead to dependency in the child and an unhappy sex life for the adults.

Actually, the opposite is true. Children grow bigger brains and healthier bodies when their needs are met by a responsive caregiver. We have science to prove it. And instincts to feel it.

Oh, and the sex thing? Dude, do you only have sex in bed? And also: date night sleepovers at grandma and grandpa's house. It's called familial support. Some days I sit here in my air conditioned, suburban house and wonder if we'd be better off living in tribes. Everyone would be all up in yo grill, but you'd have lots of access to babysitters. Parenting is easier when you're not doing it alone.

The fact is, young children often do not like to sleep alone. It's perfectly natural. And more and more people are finally figuring it out.

Here is an eye-opening paragraph in an amazing post by Darcia Narvaez, Ph.D., entitled Dangers of 'Crying It Out': Damaging children and their relationships for the longterm, from Psychology Today, December 11, 2011:
"I was raised in a middle-class family with a depressed mother, harsh father and overall emotionally unsupportive environment--not unlike others raised in the USA. I have only recently realized from extensive reading about the effects of early parenting on body and brain development that I show the signs of undercare--poor memory (cortisol released during distress harms hippocampus development), irritable bowel and other poor vagal tone issues, and high social anxiety. The USA has epidemics of poor physical and mental health (e.g., UNICEF, 2007; USDHSS, 1999; WHO/WONCA, 2008). The connection between the lack of ancestral parenting practices and poor health outcomes has been documented for touch, responsiveness, breastfeeding, and more (Narvaez et al., in press). If we want a strong country and people, we've got to pay attention to what children need for optimal development."
If we want a strong country and people, we need to think about more than just the most powerful. We need to educate ourselves and take better care of our children. Our nation for too long has been neglecting its children and blaming it on individual parents for their shitty mistakes, their poverty, their drug addiction, their moral failings. Our so-called Christian nation needs to turn its focus away from the rich and glamorous and powerful people and pay more attention to the smallest, the vulnerable, the powerless, the least of these my brethren.

Matthew 25, King James' Version:
"35 For I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in: 36 Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me. 37 Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, and fed thee? or thirsty, and gave thee drink? 38 When saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and clothed thee? 39 Or when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee?40 And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me."
Baby Bella's is such a sad story. Reports say that Bella Bond was abused and killed by either her mom's boyfriend or her mom. With no other witnesses to Baby Bella's death coming forth so far, it's a case of he-said-she-said. The state prosecutor has arrested the boyfriend on murder charges, and the mother as an accessory in the killing of this little girl. Both of them are said to be recovering from addictions to heroin. The mother gave birth to Bella in a homeless shelter and has numerous arrests for prostitution in her past.

It's such a sad story, and so frustrating because it's completely avoidable. We don't need exorcisms. We need education. And counseling. And support. Parenting toddlers is one of the hardest jobs on the planet. Can you imagine how difficult it is to parent a toddler while addicted to heroin, homeless, and a prostitute? We need to help parents who are hopelessly stuck in chaotic lives figure out ways to end the cycle of abuse. That takes money they don't have. Money many of us don't have, while the richest 1% in our nation enjoy record-breaking earnings.

In a broad sense, I say one of the answers to this complex problem of child abuse in our society is to start electing people who care about people rather than corporations and Big Money.

But you don't have to wait for elected officials to solve all our problems for us. Let's help each other. Let's support each other. Let's quit blaming "bad parents" for their mistakes and start offering help. Volunteer to work with children. Become a Big Brother or a Big Sister. Become a foster parent. Tutor kids at your local public school. Coach basketball. Get involved in the lives of children in your community.

And, if you need help, don't be ashamed to ask. It takes a brave soul to reach out for help.

If you need parenting support, contact the National Parent Helpline®:


 National Parent Helpline® is a service of Parenting Anonymous. Here's a blurb from their website:

"Being a parent is a critically important job, 24 hours a day. It’s not always easy. Call the National Parent Helpline® to get emotional support from a trained Advocate and become empowered and a stronger parent."

Friday, September 18, 2015

Pudgy Duck: an original finger play by Miss Becky

I'm a children's librarian who has the pleasure of hosting Preschool Storytime. Because of my interest in diversity, self-esteem, and healthy body image, I'm designing a storytime called "Big and Little." We read books, sing songs, and do finger plays about the amazing array of shapes and sizes of people. I had no trouble finding materials with tall, short, and thin protagonists with a healthy body image. I did have trouble finding something that features a happy, fat protagonist. I couldn't find one, so I wrote one myself.

Enjoy! Feel free to share with your young friends and their caretakers.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Talking about Feelings with Mister Rogers

From the episode, "Divorce":
Jeff, describing his recent surgery: "It just shows, you have a lot of things happen to you when you're handicapped, most of the time. And sometimes it happens when you're not handicapped." 
Mister Rogers: "Of course. But you're able to talk about those things--" 
Jeff: "Yeah." 
Mister Rogers: "--so well, and help other people--" 
Jeff: "Uh huh." 
Mister Rogers: "--who might have the same kinds of things."
Mister Rogers' Neighborhood is now on Netflix. I'm a grown damn woman, forty-four years old, with a nine-year-old daughter, yet somehow this news excites me. Mister Rogers' Neighborhood is a little kid's show, isn't it? That's what my daughter, Katie, asked before we began watching the first episode.

"I think the main audience is young kids, but even grown-ups like it. I like it? Don't you?"

Katie responded that yes, indeed, she likes it. How can you not like Mister Rogers?

I have a confession to make: When I was a kid, even younger than Katie, I did not like Mister Rogers. I thought it was a show for babies. The first time I saw it was in the basement at Mrs. Cusamano's house. I would have been six, two months into first grade. Half of my family had recently moved to Kansas City--Dad, Mom, my thirteen year old sister, Jenny, and me--leaving the other half--my eighteen-year-old brother, Jay, my sixteen-year-old sister Kitty, and my fifteen-year-old brother Pat--in St. Joe where I had been born and raised and lived my whole life. I was not happy about the move. Mrs. Cusamano was an old lady who lived across the street from us at our new house. I was instructed to walk the half-block from the school bus stop to her house after school and wait for Mom to get home from work. Some people called her my babysitter, but they were wrong. I was not a baby. Mrs. Cusamano was just a nice old lady who made me snacks and let me play in her basement after school.

If I had been at my own house, even the new one, which had the same TV as our old house did, thank God, the channel would have been set to the local station that played Tom and Jerry and Scooby Doo, after school, not PBS, the station that ran Mister Rogers' Neighborhood. I liked PBS when I was a little kid. Sesame Street and The Electric Company were my jam after my brothers and sisters would head to school and leave me at home alone with Mommy while Daddy was at work, before I got to go to school. Mommy said the school said I had to be five-years-old before I could go to kindergarten. I felt lonely at home without anyone to play with. Mommy would have tea parties with me, but mostly she was busy folding laundry and doing the dishes and drinking coffee and smoking cigarettes. She let me watch my shows on TV, and then when they were over it was time to turn the station to The Price Is Right so Mom could have a break from the laundry and the dishes.

But after school at Mrs. Cusamano's house, I wasn't allowed to watch what I wanted to watch on TV. There was another little girl, much smaller than me, a little kid who wasn't even five yet and couldn't go to school and had to stay with Mrs. Cusamano all day while her parents worked, she was there in the basement with me, playing, so we had to watch something that was "appropriate" for little kids. I guess Mrs. Cusamano thought animated cats and dogs trying to kill each other and hippies hanging out with talking dogs were inappropriate. This lady had doilies under her table lamps. I never saw the woman in pants, only cotton house dresses. While we played in her basement she was busy in the kitchen upstairs making homemade lasagna so it would be ready right when her husband got home from work. Mrs. Cusamano had not kept up with the changing times.

So I was stuck with Mister Rogers and this little kid in Mrs. Cusamano's basement after school, and it was a real drag, man. I didn't really watch the show, it was just background noise while I busied myself playing with Mrs. Cusamano's old-timey phone and Fifties-era recroom games and looking at all the framed pictures of her family she had hanging on the wood-paneled wall. It was weird to think of Mrs. Cusamano as a young woman with young kids. I never met any of her kids, who by that time were grown and gone. I liked to imagine them coming home every Sunday for dinner, although I never once saw any of them do exactly that. Not that I spent my Sunday mornings staring out the window to see if Mrs. Cusamano's kids were coming home. I was too busy inside my own home listening to the cold silence between my parents. When Mrs. Cusamano's husband would come home from work, she'd give him a peck on the cheek. The first time I ever saw either of my parents kiss was when I was eleven or twelve and Dad was getting ready to leave for a six-week job in Springfield, Missouri and before he climbed into the car, Mom leaned over and gave him a peck on the cheek. I was shocked. And surprised that instead of happy the kiss made me sad. That one kiss made me realize that there was an absence of kisses all the years before.

After a year or so of going over to Mrs. Cusamano's after school, Mom said my sister Jenny was old enough to be my babysitter. The term didn't bother me as much when we were calling Jenny my babysitter instead of Mrs. Cusamano. Having a fourteen-year-old sister who invites high school friends over to smoke pot and drink beer called my babysitter was way cooler than having a nice old doily lady called my babysitter. I could watch all the Tom and Jerry and Scooby Doo I wanted with Jenny as a babysitter.

I don't know what Mom or Dad would have done if I had ratted-out Jenny and her friends. I never did. What was the point? Even if I did tell my parents what was going on while they weren't around they'd continue to ignore it as best they could. They were busy with their jobs and their failing marriage. Their important adult problems. Kids who don't complain stay out of trouble.

Trouble with the outside world. Internally, they're screwed up. Kids who don't complain tend to internalize their trouble. Chronic stomach aches, mood swings, self-defeating behavior. I can attest to all of those ailments growing up. When I was eleven my parents took me to my first psychotherapist. Our family doctor had diagnosed me with anorexia nervosa and suggested my parents get me a shrink. They didn't want to. My sister Jenny had to scream and cry to our mom, begging her to get me some mental health care.

It's hard to blame Mom for her distrust of mental health care. Before I was born, before she gathered the strength to divorce her abusive first husband, he had her hospitalized on two separate occasions, where she received electro-shock therapy. She has no memory of most of her experiences in the hospital, and some of the things that happened around that stressful time in her life. I similarly have no memory, or just vague memories, of the time I was anorexic.

One thing I do remember is the first time I was taken to a psychotherapist. My sister Jenny won her argument that I could very well die if they didn't get me treatment. Mom and Dad and I sat in the freezing cold office, facing a lady with lots of licenses on her wall that said it was OK to talk about things that are difficult to talk about. We were just chit chatting, getting to know each other. Then suddenly my therapist asked a question that felt like a punch in the gut.

"Becky, would you say you're closer to your mom or your dad?"

I didn't know what to say. My dad was sitting right there! My mom was sitting right there! If I chose one over the other one, I was guaranteed to hurt someone's feelings.

Dad rescued me. It was the first time I remember his actually making an awkward social situation less intense. Dad said, simply, "Becky's closer to her mother."

Whew! He knows! It's not a secret. I don't have to pick. Dad picked for me.

Of course I was closer to my mother. Dad and I rarely talked to each other until I became a teenager and then it wasn't talking, only shouting. I learned at a young age to leave him alone when he got home from a long day at work. Let him sit in his recliner, eating popcorn, watching the News and whatever other grown-up shows he liked. Mom and I were closer because Mom and I talked all the time. I was her sounding board. Her little helper. Her little therapist. It made me feel powerful and important. Mom told me her deepest secrets--how my father was driving her crazy and wouldn't let her do this or that and isn't he just awful and look how he treats your brothers and sisters I swear he used to be nice before we got married and then he changed and now he's just a bully control freak.

Mom could tell me her secrets, but I couldn't tell her mine. I didn't want my hurt to hurt her.

One of the difficult things I never got around to talking about with my first therapist is that I'm a sexual abuse survivor. I've since read that there is a strong correlation between a diagnosis of anorexia nervosa and a history of sexual abuse. If I had the courage to tell my first therapist that I wasn't just mad at my parents for making me go to Weight Watchers in third grade, but that I was mad at my brother and his friend who sexually abused me, I bet I would have had a mental health breakthrough sooner than I did. I eventually began eating again and was therefore "cured" of my anorexia, but it took decades before I began to feel truly healed from my negative childhood experiences.

While my older brother Pat and his neighbor friend were using me as their sex toy, I was told never to tell Mom or it would hurt her so much she'd have to go back to the hospital and get electroshock treatments and maybe this time she wouldn't come home. I couldn't let my hurt hurt her. It was the same story my brother, Pat, was told by our grandmother who, during the times Mom was actually in the hospital getting treated for her "nervous breakdowns", was in charge of Mom's kids. Whenever our grandmother would abuse Pat, she'd tell him never to tell Mom or it would hurt her too much and she'd have to go back to the hospital and never come home again.

I became a writer because it's hard for me to talk about  my problems. I hate feeling like my hurt is hurting someone. I was raised to hold it in. Or, if you must complain, never talk directly to the person you want to complain about. I was raised in a household full of people who talked about each other instead of to each other. If Mom was mad at Dad, she talked to me about him instead of talking directly to Dad. The first time I remember Mom ever talking about leaving Dad was when I was four-years-old and Mommy was asking me if I thought she should divorce my dad. My lack of a Mister Rogers' upbringing didn't prepare me for that question. I understand why it felt easier to talk about Dad instead of to him about her problems with him. But I also understand, now, after too many years ignoring it, that this kind of triangulation hurt me. It's hard for me to admit that my mom hurt me, because it makes me worry that if I talk about my hurt it will hurt Mom even more and she might go back to the hospital and never come back. I metamorphisize back into a little pupa whenever I think about how it feels to get hurt by someone you love.

But you know what? My dad has hurt me many times in my life, and still, I love him. I care about him. I want what's best for him. And he's a pain in my ass, true. But that's life. That's family. And it's not like if I complain about one shitty thing my mom did when I was a kid--using me as her personal therapist--that means I think she was shitty in all other ways. She was not. Mom has been a wonderful mother to me in many ways. It's just that I've come to a point in my life that I feel like it's OK to say I am not a mama's girl or a daddy's girl but I am me, myself, all grown up.

I've felt the growing pains often these past few weeks. It's about time. I'm a middle-aged woman and I'm just now coming to terms with myself.

Dad's been sick lately. Heart failure. His health goes up and down. He's in and out of the hospital. I have been spending more time with him than I usually do. We've been talking more.

Mom finally divorced Dad in 1992 after twenty-two years of marriage. I was an adult, twenty-one, so I thought their divorce didn't affect me much. I was actually happy to see Mom finally do something to try to make her life happier. Dad and I drifted further apart after he and Mom divorced. I see him on some holidays. That's about it.

While I've been spending more time with Dad, lately, he's been telling stories I'd never heard. My sister Glenda, Dad's daughter from his first marriage to a woman named Shirley, is there in the hospital room listening, too. She remembers these stories. I don't. Most of them are stories of Dad's life before he married my mom and had me. He was forty-three when I was born. He had lived a lot of life already. Glenda verifies the accuracy of Dad's tales.

"Dad used to go hunting squirrels with Uncle Clyde?" I ask. "I can't even picture Dad holding a gun."

"Yep. All the time," Glenda says.

Dad used to go hunting and fishing. Glenda and her mom and our dad would go on road trips with cousins and uncles and aunts and they regularly hosted card parties at their house. This is not the Dad I had at home.

What I remember of Dad and my mom's social life before their divorce when I was still living at home is this: watching endless hours of TV and going out to eat at Long John Silver's once a week and maybe order a pizza if it's a good week. I remember having Dad tell me that since Mom and he both worked it was my responsibility to have dinner ready when they got home from work. I remember dry heaving as I stuffed the washing machine full of his drawers. I remember one vacation: to St. Louis, Missouri when I was nine years old. And Dad refused to pay for us to go up the Arch.

I've learned how to complain, now. Glenda took me to lunch while Dad was in the hospital and we had a wonderful time talking. And complaining. It's so refreshing to have someone hear your complaints without judgment. In fact, they totally understand.

"Yeah, Dad is such a bully when he doesn't get his own way!"

"Yeah, Dad is so ungrateful! He didn't even thank me for getting his groceries for him!"

"Yeah. Dad is so impatient! I told him I'd be there at 1:30 and he starts calling me asking where I'm at at 1:15!"

It feels good to vent to each other. We haven't figured out a way to confront dad about how he drives us crazy, so we don't even try. He's 88 and we're middle-aged women. We're not going to change him now.

But our conversations are not all complaints. Glenda tells me stories of how she felt like a "Daddy's Girl" when she was young, before Dad and her mom got divorced. Her mom would make a big Sunday dinner and they'd eat and then afterward Dad and Glenda would snuggle together on the couch and watch the football game on TV.

"Seriously?!" I say. "It's like we had two different dads."

Not all of Glenda's stories are sweet. Glenda remembers when she was 12 being pulled in two directions by both Dad and her mom, Shirley. They were screaming at each other, trying to get Glenda to take their side.

"She's coming with me!"

"No! She's staying with me!"

Glenda finally broke free from their grip and ran. Far away from them both.

Glenda's mom was granted custody. Dad was allowed to see his only child on holidays. I have few memories of Glenda until I was in third grade and Mom and Dad told me she was going to start taking me to Weight Watchers once a week. Needless to say, that experience pulled us apart more than it brought us together. It's only been in the last few years that I've been spending more time with my sister, Glenda. Feeling grateful for our time together.

Glenda and I are fifteen years apart. Our birth certificates show we have the same father, but by listening to the old stories they tell it sounds like we grew up with two different dads. But now somehow we have the same dad and we must together figure out how to best take care of him at the end of his life. Dying brings the living closer together. I'm feeling grateful for Glenda's memories. Her point of view.

"Dad loved you when you were a little girl," Glenda said.

It felt so weird to hear a third party talk about my relationship with Dad in a positive light. My whole life I've heard stories from my mom about how the only time she ever saw my dad cry was when his mom died and when I was born and he found out I wasn't a boy. How dad only cared about himself. How dad was so controlling and insensitive. All true stories. But hearing Glenda talk about our dad in a positive light has helped me see a different side of him. And see my relationship with him in a different light.

I do remember some sweet moments with my dad.

When I was anorexic and cold all the time, Dad would take my hands in his and rub them until his warmth spread into me.

When I was a teenager, Dad gave me a laminated quarter and told me to call home if I ever found myself stranded somewhere, drunk, without a ride. Dad knew teenagers do stupid things. He was once a teenager, too. He told me stories of the stupid drunken adventures he and his buddies would have. So I knew Dad had once been adventurous. I guess I just assumed that when middle-age hit him he slowed down.

But now I see part of the reason Dad never wanted to do anything fun is because Mom never wanted to do anything fun with him. Which came first? The miserable marriage or the miserable moods? Instead of blaming my parents shitty marriage all on my dad, which I've done most of my life, I can see now that I've been listening to stories about my dad that are told from the perspective of a woman whose love for him was tainted with disappointment, resentment, and hurt. Of course Mom views Dad in a negative light. That doesn't mean I have to.

It's really difficult for me to criticize my mom in any way, because I was trained to keep my hurt away from her. But it feels like I was raised to pick sides and she was always pulling my arm in her direction. It's time for me to stand my own grown.

It's no wonder I'm into Mister Rogers these days. My emotional maturity level is that of a four year old, not a forty-four year old. When I was four and my brother and his friend were sexually abusing me and telling me not to tell Mom or the hurt would send her away forever, I believed that I have the power to keep Mom feeling mentally healthy by not revealing my hurt to her. Be stoic so you don't hurt her with your hurt. But now, my forty-four year old self is realizing that's a fairy tale. None of us has power over each others' feelings. I have no power over my mother's feelings. I'm not responsible for keeping her out of the hospital. That's her job. And she does it quite well without my anxious help. I certainly want Mom to feel happy and well, but I don't have the power to change her. It's as if my family handed me the keys to the lock box containing Mom's darkest feelings when I was too young to handle them and now I must hand them back. I need to deal with the contents of my own lock box. So I watch Mister Rogers and feel better. So, what? Better to bloom late than to not bloom at all.

Mister Rogers says it's good to talk about our feelings. I'm trying.

Talking to Glenda about these primordial forces that feel like they're pulling us apart has helped me to feel whole again. Responsible for myself and no one else. Knowing I do not share the burden of family dysfunction alone.

From the episode, "Divorce":

Mister Rogers: "It's good to talk about things, and play about things. It gives you a good feeling."

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee (book review)

Go Set a WatchmanGo Set a Watchman by Harper Lee
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

When you elevate a human being to the status of a god, they will disappoint you. I was worried that this book, supposedly the sequel, or the prequel, or the first draft of Harper Lee's masterpiece To Kill a Mockingbird, would disappoint me. It did not. It's not as good as To Kill a Mockingbird, but nothing I have ever read, since I first read TKaM thirty years ago, is. It's my all-time favorite book. So when I heard that Lee's publisher was releasing Go Set a Watchman, my first reaction was oh shit, don't set your expectations too high! To be honest, I dreaded reading Watchman. I was terrified that the author of my favorite book ever--the highest of gods in the author universe--would disappoint me. She did. A little. And she didn't. A lot. Just the way I like it. Just like life. You look back on the ups and downs, and hopefully you're mostly looking up.

View all my reviews

Sunday, August 30, 2015

The wisdom of a nine-year-old

I don't know what to do.

Dad's in the hospital again. My sister Glenda has been with him all morning at the ER. I'm getting ready to go relieve her and sit with him until they can get him admitted. He's been in and out of the hospital for a few months now. At eighty-eight years old, the old man's survived two heart bypass surgeries 21 years apart, as well as other minor surgeries to repair his heart. Now Dad's heart is enlarged, so it can't pump as well as the rest of his body needs it to. His kidneys and lungs are starting to complain. The last doctor I spoke with said Glenda and I should start thinking of end of life care for Dad. From the research I've been doing, it sounds like that could mean six months or longer, or a few weeks. No one knows for sure.

It's the uncertainty that stresses me out. If we knew for certain when and where Dad would pass, we could devote our time and energy into helping him make that journey as peacefully as possible. Instead, with his health up and down like it has been, dragging on into the unknown, it's draining.

To make matters worse, Dad's getting grumpy. Er. Grumpier. In the past few years we've enjoyed his mellowing out. When I was a kid, Dad's default mode was grumpy. If he didn't get his way, watch out. He'd yell and scream and call you names. He acted like a two year old in a fifty year old's body. As he grew older, Dad calmed down. But now that he's really sick, his grumpy side is showing again.

This past week Glenda and I have been trying to fit into our daily lives the extra care Dad needs from us now. We've both been on the phone with his doctor's office trying to get an oxygen tank sent to his apartment. Glenda's been washing his clothes and running his errands. I've been running over to clip his toenails and do his grocery shopping at fucking Walmart, my most despised store that Dad insists is the only place that carries the items he needs. It's not. But I'm picking my battles here with Mr. Grumpy Butt. And there's no sneaking off to another store. Dad's a retired accountant. He reads receipts. Glenda gets his early morning calls to bring him back to the ER. We've both been staying with him during his hospital stays for endless hours, trying to keep him company. It's a stressful time in our lives. All of these things take energy away from us that we usually devote to our jobs and our other family members.

So I've got all this stress going on when I get an email from my pastor stating that he and the church leaders have agreed that he will resign. What the hell? I hate this kind of church drama. 

No, it's not due to the Ashley Madison scandal. I read that something like 400 pastors were caught with accounts on that cheating website. Basically the church leaders feel that Pastor Jonas hasn't lived up to their standards and they "want the future of the church to go in a different direction," whatever that means. 

I'm flummoxed. I think Pastor Jonas is wonderful. So now I have to decide if I want to stay with this church or if it's time for me to part ways with them too. Fucking church drama. I can't imagine Jesus would be a fan of all this bureaucratic bullshit.
“I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.”― Mahatma Gandhi
Dad is dying and Pastor Jonas has resigned. In times like this, I turn to someone who I can really count on. Someone who is reasonable, who has the wisdom necessary to guide me during this trying time. I turn to my nine-year-old daughter, Katie.

Me: "Katie, can I ask you something important?"

Katie: "Of course."

Me: "You know about how Pastor Jonas is leaving our church?"

Katie: "Yeah."

Me: "What do you want to do? Do you want to keep going to Sunday School and be in the choir and do all those fun things, or do you want to leave the church, too? Or something else?"

Katie, after a long, thoughtful pause: "I think I'm mature enough that it's time for me to help other people instead of asking other people to help me all the time."

Me: "What do you mean?"

Katie: "I mean, like, I could do things where I help people instead of going to Sunday School and choir where the teachers help me."

Me: "Oh! I see. So what would you want to do instead of going to church?"

Katie: "Maybe we could feed hungry people?"

Me: "That's an excellent idea. Maybe we could volunteer at a soup kitchen or a homeless shelter or something."

Katie; "That's an excellent idea."

Me: "But what about choir and your friends at church?"

Katie: "I can join choir at school and, remember, you said I could join Girl Scouts!"

Me: "More great ideas! Thanks, Punk. It makes me feel better to know we have options."

Katie: "Me, too."

Yes. There are other paths we can try. I still don't know where we're heading, but it feels like the right direction.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Living in Sin?: A Bishop Rethinks Human Sexuality by John Shelby Spong (book review)

Living in Sin?: A Bishop Rethinks Human SexualityLiving in Sin?: A Bishop Rethinks Human Sexuality by John Shelby Spong
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I read this book a couple of decades ago, so I'm going off of memory here. Bishop Spong is one of the first religious leaders I ever heard speak of homosexuality without judgment. At the time I read this book I was in my early twenties in a committed lesbian relationship. When people would ask me what my religious beliefs were, I'd cross my fingers and say, "Jesus and I are like that. But organized religion bugs me." Frankly, I felt unwelcome in most churches. I grew up listening to people talk about how the Bible says homosexuality is a sin. My friends in high school and I were bullied and threatened with death by our peers for being gay or bi or questioning. All these years later, it's still a crazy harsh world we live in, but it's getting better for kids who are gay or bi or questioning. I can't wait to re-read this book and see how I feel about it today. Highly recommended to open minds.

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Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Reality Boy by A.S. King (book review)

Reality BoyReality Boy by A.S. King
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Gerald, a seventeen-year-old who starred on a reality TV show when he was five, recounts the trauma of that experience and how it leaves him feeling angry and misunderstood. Just in case you feel the need to be even more disgusted by Reality TV. The hypocrisy. The fakery. The lies. Honey Boo Boo. The Biggest Loser. The Duggars. Yuck. Reality Boy is a work of fiction that tells the truth about Reality TV.

And, just as you're getting good and pissed off at the whole stupid world, King does something magical. She shows us how it's all going to be OK. For Gerald. And for us.

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Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Adoption classes, check

Will and I had our last adoption class last night. This morning I've been searching the databases of kids in foster care whose parents' rights have been terminated, who are legally eligible to be adopted. Out of all the kids in care, just one currently fits our family. We've put in a request to find out more information about her, and to see if our family is a good match for her. I'm not crossing my fingers. The class has prepared us for the long road ahead. Adopting kids through foster care is hard work and requires patience. Six months to two years is what we've been told to expect. We began the required classes in June. The classes are over, but our journey has just begun.

It's heartbreaking to search the database of kids. I click on the faces of these adorable children and read stories of trauma and neglect. So many kiddos are medically fragile. We're OK with emotionally fragile. Will and our nine-year-old biological child, Katie, are used to living with someone who is emotionally fragile. We're not prepared to take care of someone medically fragile. We both work outside the home and we have little time to devote to someone who needs all-day care. One of the reasons we want to adopt an older child is because they will be potty trained, capable of dressing themselves, feeding themselves, walking and talking. We want a school-aged child, old enough to be able to handle basic self-care, but slightly younger than Katie. Will thinks it's important for Katie to be the "oldest" in our children's birth order. I'm not so sure it matters that much, but Will's pretty firm in his belief that it would be better for Katie. I want what's best for Katie, even if I don't always know what that is.

We might consider adopting someone with severe medical disabilities if we could afford for one of us to be a stay-at-home parent, maybe. But I know I'd lose my mind if I didn't have a job outside the home. I love my family, and I'm devoted to them, but I get bored if my brain isn't stimulated with lots of ideas and problem solving and creativity that comes with working at the library. I succumb to caretakers' fatigue too easily to be a stay-at-home mom.

Will's more likely than me to enjoy being a stay-at-home parent. He's good at housework, lawn maintenance, and repairs. He's an early riser, great with kids, efficient with time, and a great cook. Damn, now I realize the solution to our problem: I need to make more money so I can support Will to be a stay-at-home dad.

I dunno, though. Of the two of us, I'm the worst housekeeper, but I'm the best at dealing with shit. Not, you know, like psychological shit.  Will's got me beat in that area, too. I mean actual shit. Feces. Poop. Will gets the dry heaves if he has to handle the shit of anyone older than 3 or 4. That shit doesn't bother me. I started babysitting when I was ten, and I nannied for a couple of families right after high school. Even though my mom insisted that kids should be potty trained by age 2, none of the kids I ever cared for fit that mold. I mean, sure: if you force them to go sit on the potty and bribe them with M&Ms or sticker charts or whatever floats their little poo boats, sure, they can use the toilet. But most kids I know are too engrossed in their own curiosity of the toy or the screen or their backyard to pay attention to their little bladders and sphincters. Kids have accidents. Shit happens.

Shit doesn't bother me also because I've had pets since I was two. I grew up with the occasional shit in the house. It doesn't bother me. Ancient people lived in homes with their livestock. Streets used to be lined with horse manure. Yes, those people: they're all dead now. But some day I will be too, no matter how much shit I manage to avoid. Despite their unsanitary living conditions, our ancestors lived long enough to reproduce, or else we wouldn't be here discussing shit.

I think modern people are too germaphobic. I mean, yes, if I see poop on the floor, I pick it up with a paper towel, douse it with enzyme cleaner, and wash my hands thoroughly with soap and hot water. I'm not completely stone-aged. But if a kid craps their pants or pees on the couch, it bothers me less than most people I know, including my husband.

Things that bother me: housework, cooking, routine.

Things that bother Will: shit.

So yeah, I don't think either of us would really want to be a full-time stay-at-home parent, caring for a kid whose physical limitations would require us to devote 24 hours a day of our lives taking care of their basic needs. It's sad. I wish we were those kinds of people. Those kinds of people are such a blessing to this world.

Not that Will and I aren't. We're a blessing in our own way. We're not shitty parents. We're great parents. We love our biological daughter Katie. We have so much love, we want to share it with another kid. That's why we want to adopt.

But, because of our particular family, our needs, our way of doing things, our choices in kids to adopt are limited. Like I said, I found one girl who fits, so far. We'll see how it goes. We're going through the steps with eyes wide open. Minds, too. And still, it's a struggle. A struggle we're prepared for.