After watching this news report about two men who were arrested when they got into a knife fight over a parking space at Walmart on Thursday night--on Thanksgiving, when we celebrate family, friends and loved ones and give thanks for the blessings we have--I am reminded of the primatology class I took at the community college years ago. We studied primates of all kinds, monkeys, apes, humans. My favorite primates are the bonobos. They are not aggressive over territory like other primates, including humans, are. Bonobos are the hippies of the primate world. They make love, not war. Over every disagreement. They have an fascinating culture.
Humans could learn about cooperation and harmony from our primate cousins. I'm staying home today to focus my attention on bonobos, a distraction from the Black Friday madness. Of course not everyone who likes to go shopping for good deals on Black Friday is a violent crazy person like the two in the above video. But dude, there's a website that keeps track of the injuries and deaths...yes I said deaths, that take place on this day each year.
Yeah. I know.
If you need a break from your fellow humans right now, why not watch a video about one of our more peaceful cousins, the bonobos. Bonobos don't give a shit about your parking spot, man.
Will and I had only been dating a short while when he bought me a car stereo. I was so excited I had to run inside his folks' house and puke in their toilet. Will was still living at home not because he's a slacker but because I'm a cradle robber. He was just twenty-one at the time. I was thirty-one.
His parents, of course, thought I was pregnant and asked Will about it after I left. He laughed and said no, I'm just weird. My natural response to someone giving me a thoughtful gift is not to hug them and say thank you but to run away from them and vomit. The fact that Will is OK with my weirdness is exactly why I married him.
The CD player is starting to die. It refuses to play most CDs now, and even if it accepts one, more times than not it makes it difficult to get it back. As Will's first gift to me is weakening, my love for Will grows stronger with the passing of time. I still get butterflies in my stomach when my memory takes me back in time to when Will gave it to me.
It's too old to have a slot to plug in a digital device. I like that because it means my love for Will is also old. Our only option now is the radio. Which is not ideal, but it's the tightwads' best option. I'd prefer to listen to Patti Smith's "Horses" CD in its entirety than to Miley Cyrus's "Wrecking Ball" for the kazillionth time this month if I had my druthers, but my druthers are pretty picky and prefer not spending money on a new car stereo until this one completely conks out.
Not all songs on the radio suck. I actually like Daft Punk's song "Get Lucky," especially when Katie sings along with me on road trips.
My sister and brother-in-law live in a tiny town surrounded by farmland in northwestern Missouri. As we cruised down the interstate on our drive to their house for Thanksgiving dinner, Will, Katie, and I were listening to 96.5 The Buzz, an alternative rock radio station from Kansas City. OK, we were actually mostly listening to Mix 93.3, a top-40 pop station from Kansas City, because Will is such an excellent daddy and Katie likes to sing along to the teeny-bop pop songs she hears at her school's roller skating parties. During commercial breaks, I'd switch it over to the alternative rock station to give myself a break from the overly-autotuned crowd.
As we rolled along the hills of the state highway, getting closer to my sister and brother-in-law's house, just as we crested a peak and saw a herd of cows grazing, seemingly oblivious to either the cold air surrounding them or the sunshine up above, to my utter surprise I heard a song that took me back to my seventeen-year-old self, a weirdo wearing homemade hippie clothes hanging out with my friends clad in black from eye liner to black canvass shoes they got at the Asian market at the mall. A friend once called me a Pippy - a punk-hippie. I rarely felt like an outcast among this group of outcasts. The group of punks, gay kids, and art students I hung out with in high school were the most accepting group I'd ever encountered. I have many fond memories of drinking too much Boone's Farm and running down the hill at "The Big Dick in the Sky," what us churlish kids called the Liberty World War I Memorial back in the day.
"Oh my gosh!" I exclaimed.
Neither Will nor Katie reacted. They had no idea what was going on inside my head. They had no idea I was no longer the 43-year-old wife and mother they knew, but a 17-year-old girl stumbling along her drunken path. They probably figured I was oh-my-goshing something in nature currently surrounding us. They're used to my comments about the beautiful countryside and probably figured I was just appreciating the cows or that tree over there. Instead I was remembering the tree I peed behind in my drunken youth while one of my friends played a cassette tape inside their parked car. It was a new band I'd never heard before.
I looked over at Will. "This is The Sugarcubes! Remember, I was just telling you the other day that Bjork was once in a band called The Sugarcubes and how much I loved them when I was in high school."
"Oh, wow!" Will said.
"The Sugarcubes?" Katie asked from the back seat.
"Yes. You know how Daddy loves that singer Bjork?" I asked.
"Yeah," Katie said.
"Well, Bjork used to be in this band, The Sugarcubes," I pointed to the radio. "We were just talking about this the other day. And I couldn't remember the name of the song I wanted to play for him, but this is it. This is the song." I suddenly shut up, realizing I'd already talked through too much of it.
Here's a couple of versions you can listen to. This one is the official video:
This one's a recording of their performance on SNL:
The three of us listened silently for about thirty seconds. Bjork has such an amazing voice, I thought to myself. Then, as the car came to the bottom of a hill, for a second the station went fuzzy, then faded into some country song. The radio waves were picking up a stronger signal at a local station.
As we approached the top of the next hill, the station went fuzzy again, only this time it switched back to The Sugarcubes. As we approached the top of the third hill, after the station's fuzz, The Sugarcubes's song and the country song were overlapping each other. Will and I looked at each other and burst into laughter. It was as if our old car stereo, the first gift Will gave me, his lovely weirdo, was still making beautiful music by creating a mashup of some artsy-fartsy alternative rock group and some new country pop star. It was brilliant.
For a moment.
And then, by the fourth hill, the country song won over the radio waves. We missed the end of The Sugarcubes' song. Will switched off the stereo and we rode the hills to our Thanksgiving celebration the rest of the way with just the sound of our own voices talking and laughing, which turned out to be the best of all.
We parked in the driveway, grabbed our side dish and our pie and entered their house to laugh and pray and eat and sit on our asses watching athletically gifted people toss a ball around a well manicured field, with relatives who love us despite our differences. We're all weird in our own way. It's a good feeling to know you're loved. All of you. You're weirdness and all.
A friend of mine shared this image on Facebook today:
Yep. That's how I feel about the holiday spending frenzy that will ensue beginning tomorrow evening. Black Friday scares the crap out of me. Workers die from stampedes of crazed Americans, out getting their shopping fix after a day filled with avoiding arguments with family members and belly aches from gorging themselves with dead birds and canned cranberry gelatinous goop--but thank God, at least not passenger pigeons. We've evolved passed that. Especially now that they're extinct.
And yet our child's bedroom is full of stuff. Furniture, clothes, toys galore. Most of it has been given to us as hand-me downs or gifts from relatives and friends. And yet, I'm sure my husband and I will get suckered into buying her the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Secret Subway Scene Pop Up Pizza Playset she's asked for. I remember what it felt like each year to ask for a Barbie Dreamhouse and being told I could use empty shoe boxes, washcloths, and my imagination to build my own dreamhouse. Actually, maybe that's what grew my creative mind. Maybe we should rethink this Pop Up Pizza Playset gift and buy our kid some shoes.
I'm not anti-gift giving. I'm not a total Scrooge. I love seeing my daughter's face light up when she opens a present that delights her. Maybe what I mean is that instead of overdoing it buy buying tons of expensive gifts for our children and the people we know and love, we should consider scaling it back with our loved ones we know and give to our loved ones we don't know. There are many wonderful charities that take gifts to poor children. Katie is getting a Christmas present for a little girl her age. We don't know this girl. We found her wish list at church. She asked for a pair of shoes. Size 2.
A seven-year-old asks for shoes on her Christmas wish list. Not some faddish toy or expensive gadget.
I try not to be a Debbie Downer about holiday shopping, but it's hard when you realize how much human need goes unnoticed while human greed is socially sanctioned. It's easy to get caught up in the joyous celebration of the holidays and want to spend tons of money on those close to us. But let's not forget that the well fed, the well clothed, the well gageted will still know we love them if we buy them one less gift this year and give that gift to a child who really needs it.
We indulge our child, both Will and me, but in different ways. We support each other's differences. I smile, shake my head, and look away when I see him buying her candy I don't think she needs. Will lets me take Katie to church, thanking God he has to work on Sunday mornings so he has an excuse when Katie asks why he doesn't come to church with us. Raised in a hardcore fundamentalist Christian church, the kind that had fake blood dripping from Jesus on the cross during the children's Easter pageant, Will simply says, "I had enough church growing up," when Katie asks.
I don't think of myself as a church-y kind of person either. My family is full of believers, but we have a spotty church-attendance record. My dad was raised Methodist and my mom was raised Episcopalian. Dad's mom played the organ at church, so I think he grew up going to church, but he's never talked about it to me. Dad's a very keep-it-to-yourself kind of Christian. Mom and her brother were expected to go to Sunday School and her brother sang in the church choir, but their parents stayed home most Sunday mornings.
When mom married her first husband right out of high school, she converted to Catholicism. She says of the time that she really enjoyed being Catholic. She got the kids ready each Sunday and took them to church. Sometimes her husband would show up, sometimes not. If he did he'd stand at the back of the church where the others who arrive late and want to be first to leave stood. Some of the same guys he'd been drinking with at the bar the previous night.
When Mom divorced her first husband, she left the Catholic Church. She married my dad and they started going to Wyatt Park Christian Church in St. Joseph, Missouri where we lived at the time. One of my sisters got married there. Several of my siblings sang in the choir there. All I remember of it was begging my mom to let me go to the nursery each Sunday morning because sitting still with all that grownup talk and organ music was soooooooo boooooooooring, and she'd say no, I was too old, every time, so I'd grab one of those little half sized pencils you get at churches and libraries and I'd draw pictures on the back of the church bulletin to pass the time. I liked it when the grownups would take communion and put their tiny glasses into the slots in front of them. I knew I was not allowed to drink from them because I hadn't been officially baptised. I wasn't old enough to receive baptism at that church, or some such rule.
Mom claims she baptised me in the kitchen sink when I was an infant, but I think that's called giving your baby a bath.
We left Wyatt Park Christian Church when we moved to Kansas City one month after I started first grade. It took Mom and Dad five years to find a church they finally liked, Pine Ridge Presbyterian Church, just a couple miles from our new home in suburban Kansas City. Another one of my sisters got married in that church. But by the time we got around to joining the church, during my last month of sixth grade, Dad announced we were moving across town, to Overland Park, Kansas.
My parents weren't so devoted to Pine Ridge to bother driving the 25 minutes to go to church there anymore. I was actually glad. Despite my belief that I was somehow less of a Christian than the other kids at the church who had been brought up in it, some of those girls were really mean. I remember one day after our Sunday School lesson going into the bathroom and listening to three girls my age talking badly about another girl. I remember thinking to myself, "I don't think Jesus would like the way they're talking behind her back" but I was too shy to say it out loud. I wasn't confident enough in my Christianity to talk to a member of the church. One of the girls used the word "fuck." I was shocked it didn't cause God to strike lightening onto the church roof above, but what did I know? Just what I'd gotten from sitting on the couch with my mom every Christmas watching "Jesus of Nazareth" on TV. Maybe church members get a free pass from God when it comes to swearing.
My parents and I went to a nondenominational Christian church two blocks away a couple of times once we moved to Overland Park. But after the Sunday my dad fell asleep during the sermon, we never went back.
Mom and Dad would watch this preacher on TV who had some glass castle in California or something, but I spent my teen years sleeping-in on Sundays. The only times I entered a church was when I went to a wedding or a funeral. Except for the one time I went to church with one of my sisters when I was thirteen. It was the first time I'd ever seen someone speaking in tongues. There's no way in hell someone could fall asleep during that church service, but I felt scared. Like how I felt when I saw "The Exorcist" at way-too-young of an age. I wanted to sleep with the lights on for a week after both events.
So by the time I was thirteen, I'd convinced myself that church wasn't for me. I still felt moved by the story of Jesus and how he preached love and taking care of those less fortunate and all that good stuff Mom read to me from her Bible. She skipped most of the Old Testament because she knows I'm too squeamish for slavery and rape and sacrificing babies and such, and genealogy bores me. I felt moved by the story of Jesus, but I also felt moved by Harper Lee's fictional work To Kill a Mockingbird. I began reading Kurt Vonnegut novels and was turned on to the phrase "secular humanist". I liked it. But it never felt entirely right, because when it comes down to it, I have been brought to my knees in dark times of my life and praying to God has helped me get through it.
After Mom divorced Dad when I was twenty-one, she and I joined Unity Church of Overland Park. It was liberal and uplifting. Something Mom wouldn't feel hypocritical about attending while also reading works about reincarnation by Shirley MacLaine and about other spiritual paths by Deepak Chopra. It was a Christian church, but it focused less on a literal interpretation of the Bible and more on enriching each person's spiritual journey by finding meaning in all sorts of metaphorical texts.
But then the pastor we both liked up and moved and Mom and I started going to church less and less. Mom remarried a Catholic man, got her first marriage annulled, and converted back to Catholicism. I married a non-churchgoer who's open minded. A handful of times I took Katie to an African-American church when she showed an interest in gospel music, but when they started asking for large donations to send the pastor and his wife on a cruise, I quit setting my alarm on Sundays. I just couldn't imagine Jesus wanted my money to go toward paying for a Caribbean cruise for two fortunate souls when there were so many less fortunate souls around that could use the money for things like food and shelter.
Whenever questions from Katie about God or Jesus or morality would arise, I'd preface my answers with, "Well some people think..." and end the lesson with, "but I don't think that way and not everyone does." I tried to teach my child that God is too big of a concept for anyone to know completely with uncertainty, but mostly the kid just wanted to know if she'd get to see her Uncle Pat and her dead dog Beau in Heaven some day. She seemed more satisfied when my answer was, "Yes, I think so" than when it was, "Well some people think so but how can anyone know what the afterlife is like if you have to be dead to experience it?" Maybe when she's a teenager she'll appreciate her mother's moral ambiguity, but for now, at age seven, she wants easy answers. She wants to believe that she'll see her dead loved ones once again, and so do I, so I don't question her beliefs.
Despite my uncertainty and disinterest in organized religion, I didn't hesitate to take Katie to church when she asked me to. Recently her Grandpa Bob, my step-father, passed away. Attending his funeral and talking about his death sparked an interest in religion in her. She asked if we could go to church and I said yes, not because I want to fill my daughter's head with dogma but because I want her to experience life in whatever way interests her. I will cater to all of the curiosities she has that I can. I want to expand her mind in a multitude of ways. Thus, I rarely say no to the girl. I'm a firm believer in spoiling young minds.
Turns out, it's been a big Yes experience for me as well. It's only been two weeks, so I'm trying not to jump to conclusions, but something feels right about this church. I never thought I'd feel comfortable in a church. I thought I'd take my kid to humor her, to educate her, to support her. But I never expected to feel supported myself.
You see, I'm a big liberal underdog lover who feels called to fight for social justice. I write letters to my representatives. I sign petitions. I use social media to blog about my political opinions and share petitions for my friends to sign. But I hardly ever go anywhere where I'm around like minded individuals. I'm kind of a loner. I prefer sitting in my basement writing out my thoughts to trying to hold a conversation with another person whose talking interrupts my train of thought. I'm a terrible conversationalist. I'm either silent and my mind is wandering or I'm rambling on and on, hogging the conversation. So the few times I've joined organizations to try to get my social justice fix, for example, when I worked for Greenpeace one summer in college, I enjoyed the cause and the people, but I never felt comfortable enough to maintain a long term relationship with them.
Something is different about Grace Covenant. They really seem to care about helping people and living the way Jesus lived: by loving people. All people. Free from judgment. With grace.
Here's a quote from the "about" section of Grace Covenant's Facebook page: "Seeking to experience God in the everyday and in the breathtaking... all are welcome... all."
I can see myself really flourishing at a place like this. There are so many opportunities to help people, it's a little overwhelming. This church really focuses on social justice issues. Today during the adult education time while Katie was in Sunday School they had three speakers from Atonement Prison Ministry talking about all the work they do to help inmates and former-inmates find value in their lives.
One of the coolest partnerships is with a nonprofit organization called Arts in Prison, Inc. They "provide arts education to inmates. Through the creative process, inmates can retain or reclaim the positive aspects of their humanity before rejoining neighbors or family in the community."
Here's information from the "Our Values" section of the brochure they passed out:
"We believe that it is possible for inmates to change their lives.
"We believe that most inmates need help, role models, new skills, and new attitudes in order to change.
"We believe that powerful experiences through various art forms can help inmates transform their thinking and aspirations.
"We believe that involving trained community volunteers with inmates during arts classes and programs provides effective mentoring that helps inmates shape their behavior patterns."
I'm going to wait and see before I volunteer myself. I have a feeling there are going to be other opportunities for ministries I'll feel called to join. But I figured I can help out by spreading the word. That's my gift and I can use it for good.
Arts in Prison needs monetary contributions, donations of books for prison libraries, and volunteers. For more information on how you can get involved with this wonderful organization, here's their contact information:
I had a blast last night at my birthday party, dubbed Becky's Big Lebowski Birthday Bash because my friends and loved ones donned our dudest robes and sandals and drank White Russians and watched "The Big Lebowski" on VHS tape.
Will and me, a couple of dudes in robes drinking White Russians.
I was surprised at how much everyone liked my chili. The beefy.
And the veggie.
We played Scattergories. I don't remember who won. I don't think anyone paid attention. We were laughing too much to care.
A doodle I did while we played Scattergories.
During a break from the game I noticed my mom has her own fan club that communicates its love for her on our bathroom wall. I'm so glad she made it to my party so she could meet some of my new friends and visit with friends I've had for years.
Everybody loves my mom. She's so funny. She's getting ready to move, so we had this conversation yesterday:
Mom: "Could you look up their phone number?"
Me: "Sure? What's it called again?"
Mom: "Two and a Half Men."
Me, starting to type, "Um. Isn't that the name of a TV show? Not a moving company?"
Mom: "What did I say?"
Me: "Two and a Half Men."
Mom: "Oh, Two Men and a Truck."
Evidently Mom's not the only one who wowed our guests. A party goer left this statement on our bathroom wall:
Katie's going to get a big head every time she needs to use the head.
She is pretty cool. She did build this vehicle for her fake cockroach, Chris.
It's no wonder Katie's so creative. She's surrounded by creative adults. Mom asked me if we had any Kleenex. We don't, so I handed her a roll of toilet paper. Someone stuck it on the mic stand where it fits just right.
My awesome husband Will gave me two great presents for my 43rd birthday. A sweet hammock:
And a sink full of clean dishes. Before:
Which gives me time to sit and sip a cup of hot cocoa:
And sit on the couch and chill if these two would skooch over:
But that's ok. After a fantastic birthday party last night, and a wonderfully relaxing birthday day after, I'm treating myself to this video:
I'm having some friends and family over for my birthday tonight. We're going to watch "The Big Lebowski," wear our robes, drink White Russians, and possibly use the hammock Will got me for my forty-third birthday as a bobsled slide since it iced overnight.
I decided to serve chili. Two reasons. Reason number one: see above. It's freaking freezing outside. Warm bellies inside make happy partiers. Reason number two: it pleases most people. It's easy to cook two pots of chili, one with meat and one without. Most of my friends eat meat, but I do have quite a few vegetarian or flexitarian or whatever friends. I have lots of whatever friends when it comes to many topics. It's usually the whatever that I like most about my friends.
I don't eat beef, so I'm used to cooking chili in two pots, one for me and one for Will and Katie. It will be nice to have people to share my pot tonight. Dude, too bad we don't live in Colorado or that last sentence could have a double meaning. It is a Big Lebowski party, after all.
It might seem strange that I don't eat beef but I'm willing to cook with it. It's all because of Will. When I fell in love with Will I found myself doing things I didn't think I'd ever do: cooking him meals with beef, buying a house in the suburbs, and listening to a Frank Zappa CD without hating it.
Beef is gross, but it's not the only gross food I'm willing to handle for someone I love. I also think baby barley cereal is disgusting, but Katie loved it when she was six months old, so I happily fed it to her. I have to hold my nose when I feed my pets because their food is so nauseating, but it makes me happy to see them wolf it down. If you come to my house I'll cook you what you like because I like the look on your face, as long as I don't have to hack off a face. Or God forbid, devein a shrimp. You know those are not veins, right?
So, because it's my birthday and I'm spending my time doing what I want, I decided to blog about the beefy chili I made, with love, for my beef loving friends despite my revulsion to beef. How ambiguous can this life get?! Happy birthday to me, dear blog friends.
I inherited this pot and spoon after my parents' divorce. My dog Sawyer chewed on the handle, but it's one of my favorite cooking utensils. It reminds me of when I'd watch Mom cook chili using the same pot and spoon.
I hope my guests understand that I don't expect presents, but I do expect them to help me with the housework. The DJ will announce over my PA: "Any dishwashers in the house?"
Yellow onions are the best. Look, there's the knife Will got me for Christmas last year. It's my favorite knife. Am I the only person who gets attached to kitchen utensils and plays favorites? I wonder if my other knives bully this knife when they're all in the drawer together because they're jealous of my love for it. That's a joke. When are my knives all clean at the same time? More likely they're all about to jump my good knife inside the sink.
Beef is disgusting, but even I like the smell of it frying with onions.
As in most things in life, I don't follow directions. I hope my guests appreciate this about my cooking as much as they appreciate it about my worldviews.
As usual, I was neglecting the vegetarians. I forgot to take pictures of the beginning stages of my fine veggie chili. Oh well, here's what it looks like mid-way. My father-in-law makes it better than I do (and he's a beef lover too, so it's sweet of him to make a vegetarian one just for me when we visit.) He's the person from whom I stole the idea to add hominy.
Back to the beefy chili. I slip in some black beans and hominy just to make it more colorful.
All done. Weird. Notice the time. From start to finish it took me one hour, exactly. That was unplanned. I hope it's a good omen my guests will like their beefy chili.
And for those who don't believe in omens or beef or they just want to try something different, they can share my pot of Becky's Big Lebowski Birthday Bash Veggie Chili.
Katie's school is having a food drive leading up to Thanksgiving. Each day we are asked to send one item. Next Tuesday we're asked to send a box of macaroni and cheese. We had eaten all ours, so I wrote it on our grocery list so I wouldn't forget.
After I picked up Katie from school we headed to the grocery store. While in the mac and cheese aisle, I informed Katie that we needed to pick out a box for her school's food drive.
"Let's get the SpongeBob shapes!" Katie said, picking up a box and shoving it into my face so I could see exactly what she was talking about.
"No." I stepped back. "Just get the store brand. It's the same thing really, and the store brand is much less expensive," I reasoned.
"Mom," Katie said in her calm, mature-beyond-her-years voice. "The food drive is for poor people."
"Yeah. So? They're used to eating store brand mac and cheese, just like we are," I argued.
"But Mom. How would you like to be a kid who doesn't get very much food and very many toys? This food can be kind of like a toy for them," Katie said, her eyes sparkling.
***Warning, this video and blog post might not be suitable for all people. Lots of sex talk down there.***
The video above was published on YouTube by kbcreativelab with this note: "If you've ever watched porn, and if you've ever had sex, you know that the two are very different. But what are the differences, specifically? Whet your appetite and watch the video!" It's a hilarious video, but I think they need to rename it "Professionally Produced Porn Sex Vs. Real Sex" because nowadays amateur porn is big. I've written before about how surprised I was to find that, for me, looking at porn with my husband helped me understand that beautiful bodies come in all shapes and sizes and that I should not feel ashamed of my body. In the same way giving up reading fashion magazines and tabloids has helped me stop trying to live up to some unattainable beauty standard, looking at porn has helped me realize that the fact that my abdominals don't show under my layer of belly fat does not make my body an abomination. But then again, my husband and I look at self-published amateur porn. I've tried to watch professionally made porno videos with my husband but I've never found one I like. It's too much for me. In the same way I prefer biopics and documentaries over fantasy films, I prefer self-published amateur porn over professional porn. The video above explains why in a funny, light-hearted way: because it's so ridiculously unrealistic.
I'm a cross-dresser from the ankles down. My black work boots are a men's size 8WW. It's difficult for me to find affordable women's shoes that are wide enough to fit me, so now I buy men's shoes. My husband thinks my men's work boots are sexy on me. Especially when I wear them with a dress, tights, and a push-up bra.
I like that look. Not all matchy-matchy. I would not have done well living in the era when middle-class women were expected to wear a matching hat, gloves, purse, and shoes. Barf. I like my fashion more mixed up and complicated. I prefer incongruity when it comes to most things.
I like it when I see old ladies at the grocery store wearing expensive looking wool coats over their nighties, or a beautiful silk scarf covering the rollers in their hair. I like young guys who walk out of the convenience store wearing a wife beater, a hoodie, jams, dirty white tube socks, and plether velcro sneakers with holes in both toes, while putting on their $200 yuppified sunglasses. I like it when I'm at church and I see a beautiful mom who somehow managed to put on her best dress, heels, and even makeup while rushing around helping her kids get ready, only to have obviously forgotten to brush the back of her hair.
I like it when I see men in unwrinkled khakis and a button-up shirt wearing sandals exposing their hairy toes. I've noticed that look especially from men in my community who immigrated here from places such as India and Pakistan. It can be thirty degrees outside and a dark-skinned, straight-haired man with an Indian accent will approach me at the library where I work, asking for help with the printer or whatever, and nine times out of ten when I stand up and walk behind him to the printer, I notice his nearly bare feet. I love it. I love that my community as a whole has become much less matchy-matchy over time.
I myself am a big fan of feet being able to breathe. I love sandals, wool boots you don't have to wear socks with (some might call those slippers, but if you wear them out of the house, like I do, they're called boots, and any type of footwear that doesn't make my giant feet feel smashed. I take my socks off in bed at night no matter how cold it is so my toes can wiggle around.
When I was a kid I often had to wait in the car while Mom ran into the store because when Mom had come outside where I was playing and announced we were going to get groceries, I'd inevitably be shoeless and forget to run inside and grab my flip flops. It was better if we went to Kmart because then Mom would just go in and buy me another pair of flip flops so I could come into the store too. I owned approximately 1001 pairs of flip flops when I was a child.
I mostly wear my men's workboots now. I don't feel ashamed admitting my feet are cross-dressers. In our culture, it's no longer expected of women to always wear heels when they leave the house. Grandmas wear sneakers now, but when they were little girls they owned only white oxfords or black Mary Janes. Girls didn't play sports so why would they own sneakers? My sisters are not that much older than me, but when they were in elementary school it was against the rules for them to show up wearing pants. My sister Kit says she remembers the day the rule changed. She had been so excited about the day approaching, but on the morning the rule changed, when she had every right to wear pants to school, she forgot and showed up in a skirt.
I tell this story to my seven-year-old daughter Katie as she's pulling up her pants in the morning while getting ready for school and she looks at me like she wants to say, "What the hell?" But for some reason, this child being raised by two potty mouths has decided to go full pious on us and refuses to say any swear words even though we've informed her it's OK at home, just not out in public, and especially not at school. She won't even say the word "stupid". Or "deviled eggs". The other day my mom said something about making deviled eggs and Katie announced: "I'm not eating those!"
When asked why not, she refused to say the word and just wiggled around the living room like Linda Blair. I thought I was going to have to grab my mom's crucifix from the wall and do an exorcism, but then I figured out what was wrong with her. "Oh. You don't want to eat them because they have the word 'devil' in them?"
She nodded her head dramatically.
"The eggs are not from the Devil. That's just what they're called," I said.
"Why?" Katie asked.
"I have no idea," I said. Might as well be honest with her.
"You're not going to burn in Hell for eating deviled eggs," I said.
Katie said nothing but she looked like she had little faith in her mother's assessment of the situation. She looked like she has a mind of her own and she was using it.
Why is she so interested in morality lately? I have done my best trying to infuse my parenting with ethical relativism, and yet my child insists on black and white answers to her questions. She wants to know what's the right way to do everything. This morning she asked if the right way to pray is to put your hands together and hold them to your lips and close your eyes.
I said, "That's one right way. But there are many right ways. You pray the way you feel it's right. You can even just talk to God inside your head while you go about your day and no one has to know you're talking to God. It can be just between you and God. Or you can make a big production out of it by kneeling and doing all sorts of gestures with your hands, but you don't have to do those things to talk to God."
It feels odd for me to be giving another person advice about such big things as God. Neither Will nor I have ever put a lot of emphasis on religion, and yet our daughter is interested in it. I feel the same way about math. I'm not a fan of math myself, but I don't want to turn my kid off of something that's sparked her curiousity. I'd hate to stifle her interests just because it's "not my thing". Just because I can find God by walking in the woods at the dog park doesn't mean I should keep my daughter from finding God inside a building full of other kids her age.
It seems like no matter how you raise a person, they end up doing what they want to do in the end anyway. You might as well just love them and let them be who they are.
Last week while I was washing dishes I listened to a fascinating program on KCUR's "Central Standard". It's called "The Practice of Gender-Conscious Parenting." You can listen to it here. Guests include:
The guests talked to host Brian Ellison about raising gender-nonconforming kids. In a nutshell, what the parents and the psychologist said is that if we love our kids unconditionally and let them be who they are, it will help them grow to be their healthiest, strongest selves.
Here are my two favorite quotes:
"If you can't tell if my son is a boy or a girl, just treat him like a person." --Lori Duron
"The children are shaping us. We are not shaping them."
I'm not sure which of the three guests said the second quote. I believe it was Dr. Ehrensaft, but in my rush to dry my soapy hands, grab a pen and write down the quote I couldn't hear who actually said it. I'd listen to it again, but I'm behind on my list of other things to listen to while I wash dishes, so I'll leave that mystery up to you, my friend.
As a kid, if I wanted to play Barbies with my best friend, who happened to be a boy, he agreed as long as we closed the blinds in my bedroom so no one outside could see us. It was perfectly fine for me to play kickball and ride bikes and look at his dad's porno stash with him--normal, healthy, curious kid-type stuff, but if he was caught playing Barbies with me, his dad would have called him a sissy and his mom would have told him he couldn't come over to my house anymore. It was bad enough that our parents stopped letting us have sleepovers at each other's houses by the time I was in third grade.
"Why?" I asked my mom.
"Because boys and girls aren't supposed to sleep together until they're grownups and married," my mom explained.
It seemed unfair to me. Like when she made me start wearing a shirt outside. No matter how hot it was. Even if the boys weren't wearing their shirts. No fair!
But mostly Mom was accepting of my androgyny. She called me a tomboy. I liked to play outside and get dirty and shoot baskets and fish for crawdads at the creek. I did not like to take a bath or brush my hair or floss my teeth. I didn't play with baby dolls in a caretaker-y way. I might have burped and bottled one once in a while, but for the most part I thought baby dolls were pretty boring.
Now Barbie dolls were another story, because I used them to create my own stories. Complex, ridiculous, soap-operaesque stories. About things that concerned a ten to twelve year old girl. People were always getting their period at the most inopportune times: at the bus stop, at the grocery store, and God forbid, on a date. Kids (played by other Barbies and explained as just being really tall for their age, or an occasional Skipper doll) were always fighting, always falling off cliffs and wrecking their bikes and throwing up and all kinds of horrible stuff. It was great. I'd have a bad day at school and I'd come home and reenact the scene with my Barbies.
Basketball and Barbies were both "my thing". No one said anything when I wore a vinyl Chewbacca Halloween costume in second grade instead of going as Princess Leia. And no one said anything about my wanting to wear my pink flip flops with my costume. It just wasn't an issue. Except for my mom. I think she made me put on socks and my winter boots so I wouldn't catch a cold.
I'm lucky to have had an understanding Mom. She herself in many ways was a "tomboy" compared to other girls. She was always the catcher when they played softball during gym class, which was segregated by sex, because none of the other girls knew how to catch a ball. Mom grew up with an older brother, so it was easy for her. I've noticed most kids will play with about anything if that's what they have the opportunity to play with.
I don't recall caring one way or the other if someone I was playing with was a boy or a girl, just that they were around my age. As the youngest child in a big family of much older siblings and no cousins around my age, I craved time spent with people my own age. I loved school, not for the education, but for the socializing. Recess was always my favorite time.
Before I started elementary school, about the only time I got to play with other kids was at the library before or after storytime. That's where I met my friend Courtney. We were about four. We were waiting around for storytime to begin. I saw her standing there, looking at a book. She had short, dark hair cut like someone traced a bowl around her head with a pair of scissors. She was wearing brown corduroy pants and an orange t shirt with a tiger on it. I remember distinctly walking up to her and saying, "Are you a boy or a girl?" She said, "a girl" matter-of-factly, and we went on to play. I would have played with her had she been a boy too, I was just curious. Like asking someone what their favorite color is. If it's not yellow like mine, I'm not gonna stop coloring with them.
In ninth grade I gave a speech I wrote called "Human's Lib" in which I argued that boys are treated more unfairly than girls in our culture because girls can be girly or a tomboy, but boys are discouraged from expressing their feminine side. After class, a jock boy who had never spoken to me before came up and thanked me for what I said. My heart was pounding likeAllison Reynolds' must have been when Andy Clark first spoke to her. I couldn't believe he noticed me. The next day I noticed his hair was kinda poofed up and shiny like he had put mousse in it that morning. At Katie's school last year, one of the boys in her grade wore a Princess Merida costume from the movie "Brave". Giant curly red wig and all. And you know what? During the parade of all the kids in their costumes, he was hands down the kid with the most beaming face there. Doing his own thing.
When Will and I visited the Overland Park Arboretum recently, I was reminded of the Joni Mitchell song, "Big Yellow Taxi".
"Now they took all the trees, put em in a tree museum. Then they charged all the people a dollar and a half just to see em." --Joni Mitchell
With inflation, we were asked to pay three bucks, but still. When the cashier informed us we had to pay before we could enter, it was just like, seriously? Haven't you heard that Joni Mitchell song?
We couldn't believe what used to be a free park is now so fancy pants you have to pay to enter it. I had brought my camera intending to snap some photos of the beautiful autumn trees. Instead we left the place and drove down the road to see other non-arboretum trees, which were just as glorious. I don't need to pay money to appreciate a tree.
My friend Sarah invited Katie and me to her church: Grace Covenant Presbyterian Church. I'd heard about how great this church is from another friend and I'd previously checked out their website, but I'd never gotten around to going. Katie recently asked if we could go to church, so we accepted Sarah's offer.
Everyone was warm and embracing. Katie had a blast. She went to Sunday school in a classroom for first through third graders. As we walked into the classroom the teachers greeted us and welcomed Katie, which I expected, but what I didn't expect was how friendly the kids would be. One boy in particular--Katie later told me his name is Mark--walked up to Katie and extended his hand, saying, "Welcome!" It was adorable.
While Katie attended Sunday School, Sarah and I attended a lecture by Alice Chamberlain of Communities Creating Opportunity, a faith-based organization that coordinated the Restaurant Worker's Strike in Kansas City this summer. The lecture is called "Unlocking the Power of People". Here's a blurb about it:
"Alice has mobilized over 100 congregations to engage on an Economic Dignity agenda through public action and direct voter contact. Developing leaders to fight for systemic solutions around livable wages, fair access to credit, and affordable healthcare, Alice believes the inherent dignity of every person should be recognized in our economy.
"Alice has a BA from the University of California, Berkeley, in Development Studies and has studied at the Midwest Academy: Organizing for Social Change. While at Berkeley, Alice co-founded and co-directed The Magnolia Project, an initiative to organize student trips to New Orleans to support the post-Hurricane Katrina rebuilding efforts. Originally from Palo Alto, California, Alice has extensive organizing and policy experience. Prior to joining CCO, Alice was a Professional Organizer for American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), a public services employees union with more than 1.6 million active and retired members.
"Communities Creating Opportunity exists to discover, develop and direct the power of people of faith to build a better quality of life for their families. Working in over 100 diverse congregations throughout the Kansas City metro, we revitalize democracy and awaken faith in public life through leadership development and the regular engagement of over 80,000 voters across Missouri and Kansas.
"CCO’s core mission is to bring people of all faiths together to build relationships, develop strong leaders, and improve the quality of life in our communities. In very broad terms, CCO trains volunteers from area congregations in the leadership and advocacy skills required to effect the social change needed to improve the quality of life in their communities."
It was a fascinating lecture that fired me up and made me want to get involved. At the Restaurant Worker's Strike this summer, they had one of the men who worked with Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King during the Civil Rights Movement, Rev. C.T. Vivian.
Here's the video Ms. Chamberlain played for us showing highlights of the strike:
Here's the blurb from the video describing it:
"On July 29 and 30th, Communities Creating Opportunity joined groups across the Kansas City Metro to call for a living wage for fast food and retail employees. Joining the days of action was legendary Civil Rights leader Rev. C.T. Vivian, a member of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s inner circle.
"Across the Kansas City area, more than 26,000 workers labor in our fast-food industry make just $294 per week full-time with no health insurance or sick days. Workers' wages are so low, it's hard for them to afford the basic necessities of life: food, shelter, transportation.
"Their average age is 28 years old. They are mothers, fathers, grandparents, and more. They work full-time hours, but live in poverty.
"This must end.
"As people of faith, we recognize that all humans have dignity and worth. We must stand against this suffering. We cannot, in good conscience, allow this preventable poverty to continue.
After that riveting lecture, Sarah and I met Katie and the three of us joined the rest of the congregation in the sanctuary for prayers and song. Katie's normally pretty shy, but she was so excited, she even walked up to the front with the other children to join in the Children's Sermon where they got to ring bells on cue and shout "Hallelujah!" Katie was beaming the entire time.
After the Children's Sermon, Katie got to leave the sanctuary and join other kids for Awakening to Worship, a special service "to help children learn how to participate spiritually in worship." Sarah and I stayed for the sermon, which was about how important song is in our spiritual lives. The church just replaced their old hymnals with new ones, so the congregation was all jazzed about that. They told us all to take the old hymnals home with us.
Katie was thrilled when, after I picked her up from Awakening to Worship, I told her we could take a hymnal with us. She clutched it to her heart and said she was going to study it so she'll learn the songs. She asked if we could come back next Sunday and I assured her we could.
Pastor Rev. Jonas Hayes greeted Katie and me as we were leaving and he introduced us to a couple who has a son who was in Katie's Sunday school class.
Katie and I felt so welcomed. As we walked out the door, we grasped hands and Katie asked, "Can this be our church?"
As I've written before, I'm not a huge fan of organized religion. Too often I've felt burned by so-called Christians spewing more hatred than love from their mouths. For a while I didn't consider myself to be a Christian even though that's the faith in which I was raised. I came out of the closet as a Christian recently, but I still hadn't had the energy to find a church or pursue it further than reading Bible stories to Katie and answering her philosophical questions as best I could. We had tried another church a few years ago, but I got annoyed with their pleas for funding to send the pastor and his wife on a cruise. I just couldn't imagine Jesus died on the cross so two people could vacay in the Caribbean.
I didn't imagine there would ever be a church for me. I'm too questioning. I believe in science and evolution. I think God loves everyone. People of all faiths and colors and creeds. Even gay people. Even atheists. I don't think God prefers one person to another. I think God loves all of us and I believe we are all God's children. The kind of relationship we each have with God is as individual as we are. I don't like it when people judge others and tell them that if they don't do this or that they'll burn for eternity in Hell. Those kinds of people piss me off. But I still love them, no matter how hard it is. I think that's what Jesus wants me to do.
I think this church might help me learn different ways I can love people the way Jesus does.
"Can it be our church?" Katie asked.
Borrowing a phrase from my wise husband, I said, "Sure, why not."
When we got home Katie set her hymnal down, stood straight, with a look of worry in her eye and said, "Does this mean I can't watch Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles anymore?!"
"What? Does what mean you can't watch Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles?" I asked.
"Going to church," Katie explained.
"Why would going to church mean you can't watch Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles?" I asked, trying not to laugh.
"Because the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles are all about fighting and Jesus is all about peace and love," Katie explained.
"Oh. Well I don't think Jesus will mind if you watch a cartoon that's not even real that has fighting in it. You're not the one doing the fighting, are you?" I reasoned.
"No!" Katie shouted and then blew air out of her mouth so hard it made a whistle. "Whew!"
She's going through a big morality phase. She wants to do everything the right way. Too often I don't know what the right way is when she asks me for guidance. There are so many right ways. I don't think this church will have all the answers. I don't even think a person has to go to church or believe in God to have a set of moral values. But Lord knows I need all the help I can get answering all of Katie's big questions about life. I think Grace Covenant can help.
"There are people in this world who, ever since they were 12 years of age, they decided they wanted to be president of the United States,” Sanders said. “That is honestly not me,” he continued. “Anyone who really, really wants to be president is slightly crazy because this is an unbelievably difficult job given the crises that this country faces today.”
Wouldn't it be great to have a president who agrees with The People that the leader of the free world is slightly crazy?
It's not an academic question of walking into a room and saying "Gee, I think we should discuss this issue." It's a question of reflecting what the American people want. Every poll that I have seen says overwhelmingly the American people do not want to cut Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid. They want the wealthy and large corporations to pay more in taxes. In Washington, what people are saying "let's cut Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid. Let's give the rich and large corporations more tax breaks." They're completely different sets of reality. The American people want something. Congress and the big money interests want something else. So, I want to rally the American people to stand up and fight for their needs, and the needs of the middle class people, rather than just allowing the wealthy to have so much influence.
--Bernie Sanders in the video above
Wouldn't it be great to have a real president who understands real people's needs?
"Katie's Phat Stack of Library Books" by Becky Carleton
About a week ago Katie saw the book Diary of a Wimpy Kid at her friend's house. The next day she asked me to order it for her. I placed a hold on book one, and it was available for me to pick up the next day at work. I brought it home. She read it in one day. All 217 pages of it.
Then she asked for volume two. She finished it and asked for three. I forgot to place it on hold right away. She asked me about it the next day. I told her I was sorry, that I'd forgotten, and didn't she have something else to read? Her bookshelf is full and there's a stack of about 30 library books over on her table.
She said OK, sat down in the comfy chair, cracked open book two, and began re-reading it.
The kid really likes this series.
She's taken to playing a pretend game where she has a brother named Greg who is in sixth grade. And another brother named Rodrick who is in high school. When I hear her whispering something off on her own, she answers, "Aww, just talking to my brother Greg" when I ask her who she's talking to.
I finally remembered to bring home book three from the library. I went ahead and checked out the whole series. At the rate she's tearing through them, she'll be able to return them before their three week due date. Unless she decides to re-read them over and over like she does when she goes full fangirl.
She was asleep last night when I brought them home from work, so she didn't see the stack until the next morning, first thing, as she wiped the sleep crud from here eye and mumbled "Boo Berry cereal" when I asked her what she wanted for breakfast. Her face lit up as soon as she saw the stack.
She looked up at me and smiled big. "You got all of them?! Thank you!" She ran off with book three before I reined her in.
"Hold on, Punk. You need to eat your breakfast and get ready for school. Put the book down for now and you can read it after school," I said.
"But, Mom!" she protested.
"Come on. You can be patient. You've waited this long. You can wait til this afternoon. It will give you something to look forward to when you get home from school and you just want to chill with a good book."
She smiled and put the book down.
It's weird to encourage a kid to stop reading so she can go to school.
Katie often reminds me of my favorite fictional character Scout Finch from my all-time favorite book To Kill a Mockingbird. I don't know if this is because I admire Katie so much I associate her with a character I also admire, or vice versa.
When she put the book down and came to the breakfast table, it reminded me of that scene where Atticus encourages Scout to just go to school and listen to her teacher despite the fact that she already knows how to read. Katie's also somewhat of a do-it-yourself learner. I'm sure she could learn many things she does at school simply by staying at home and reading a never-ending supply of library books.
But I like to send her out into the world so she learns about life outside of books. So she makes more friends than imaginary brothers named Greg. Not that Greg is unwelcome in our house. He's welcome with open arms. Imaginary friends are spectacular for helping creative kids learn about life. But I like to see her play with real life kids too.
Not that I'm against home schooling. At all. It's a great option for many kids. They even have social events, so it's not as lonely as it sounds. I see ads for "Homeschool Skate Parties" and other activities for home school kids to meet up and hang out. If Katie ever gets bored with school, I'll consider homeschooling as an option. But for now, she loves going to school. Even enough to quit reading her favorite book and get ready for school.
For the majority of kids though, I like the idea of public schools. I like supporting public schools by sending my daughter to one. I remember when President Jimmy Carter sent his daughter Amy to a public school and there was a lot of brouhaha over it, how anti-elitist of a gesture it was. I think all kids should be provided with a quality education no matter how much money their parents make or how many library books their parents let them check out. Ideally public schools and public libraries make our children brighter, healthier, happier, and stronger. They give children ways to explore their world in their own unique way. Our family is privileged to live so close to a great public library system and a great public school. I wish that for all the world's children. If only our great nation would spend less money on bombs that kill innocent children and spend more money on public access to books and education, parents all over the world could be blogbragging about what bookworms they're raising.
On my afternoon walk around the park the other day, I looked up and saw the most beautiful red-leafed tree I have ever seen. The way the sun was hitting it. Glorious. I took a deep breath and thought of the oxygen this amazing tree had provided me. As I exhaled, I thought to myself, "Thank God for sertraline."
Everywhere I turn outside this year the autumn trees mesmerize me with their overwhelming beauty. Are they more vibrant this year or is it the sertraline? I think it's the sertraline. Last year I was off it. This year I'm back on.
It's wonderful. I finally feel like getting out of bed in the morning. I can sleep at night without waking up in a sweaty panic. I want to do fun activities with my child. I appreciate my husband more. I pet my dogs and even my sociopathic cat more than I have in years. I write more. I take more baths. I eat more chocolate. I worry less.
So I think it's the drug. Dude, autumn trees on sertraline is sublime.
Here are a few snapshots I've taken recently when the urge struck me and as luck would have it I had my camera on me:
"Autumn Leaves and Sun in Our Back Yard" by Becky Carleton
"Autumn Leaves in Our Back Yard" by Becky Carleton
I was upstairs getting ready to tuck Katie into bed when Will called from our basement family room, "Hey, guys, come check out this fire."
Katie and I looked at each other like what?
Will built us this fire in our fireplace.
I'd heard Will moving stuff around downstairs, but I figured he was cleaning up in preparation for my up-coming birthday party. Will's the kind of person who starts cleaning the house the moment you tell him someone is coming over. Even if they're not coming over for two weeks. I, the yin to Will's yang, approach preparing for a party differently. I put it off til the very last moment. Generally this means I rush around the house, throwing things into closets and using my socks to sweep the pet hair off the floor, brewing a pot of coffee to mask the foul odor I can't quite trace back to its origin, and closing the doors to the rooms that are too far gone to even attempt to tidy up before the guests arrive. But sometimes my procrastination pays off. Occasionally the guests will call and cancel and then I get to gloat to Will that see, it's a waste of effort to plan ahead. Why clean the house if you are not absolutely certain guests are stopping by?
As Katie and I descended the stairs, the smell hit us.
"Mmm. It smells like a fire!" Katie announced.
Halfway down the stairs, I could see Will had not been cleaning up in preparation for my up-coming birthday party. He had been moving stuff out of the way so he could get to the fireplace and build his family a nice warm fire on a cold night.
I pulled out Katie's Winnie the Pooh sleeping bag, a hand-me down from Will's cousin's kid, and Will handed Katie a giant floor pillow my sister Glenda, who owns an estate sale business and is always giving us good loot, left with us the last time she visited. Katie snuggled up in front of the fire. Will and I sat in comfy chairs around it. We talked about what it was like in the olden days when people had to use fire to see in the darkness. But mostly we were quiet, all three of us mesmerized by the crackling, chaotic flames neatly contained inside our fireplace.
It's a difficult sound to capture on my old digital camera, but I still felt compelled to do it. I document my life obsessively. The good stuff, at least. As a person with lifelong, chronic depression and post-traumatic stress disorder, I think the reason I like to write down my thoughts and take pictures and videos of my life so much is because I want to focus on the good times. There is an undercurrent of fear streaming inside me that the beauty and love and warmth and fun will end and I'll be back in bed with the covers over my face, unable to face the ugliness and hate and cold and sadness. If I record the good times, it elevates them to a more important role. When I write stories, take pictures, and shoot videos of my life, I'm turning those moments into art. And art lasts longer than a lifetime.
I saw this meme the other day and I could totally relate:
Within twenty minutes of lying in front of the fire, Katie, half-asleep, mumbled for her daddy to carry her to bed. The guy lifts fifty pound bags of nuts at work all day, so he thinks nothing of lifting our seven-year-old nut up and carrying her to bed. I sat in my chair, the heat from the fire warming my face and my toes, and I watched as my lovely man ascended the stairs with our sweet child draped across his shoulders. I would have taken a picture of them, but my camera was across the room and the moment would be gone before I'd have a chance to snap it. So I sat there and watched them and listened to the fire serenade us with its crack crack crack -- pop!