I got chills when I heard a woman sing a song at Grace Covenant Presbyterian Church this morning. Katie sat at my side, leaning into me, her head fitting perfectly in my armpit, her cheek against my breast. At seven, these snuggly moments are growing far too few for my taste, so I sat frozen and took it all in.
I felt full of love.
What a beautiful song it is. I had never heard it before. I saw in the church bulletin it's called "Breath of Heaven". The singer is Donna Goeckler, and man, she's amazing. Tears baptized my eyes during the part where she sings breath of heaven hold me together be forever near me.
Hold me together.
Anyone who's ever felt desperate knows that feeling. Anyone who's ever felt like they were falling apart knows what it's like to need something bigger than yourself help hold you together.
When we reach out to each other, when we let each other know we are here to hold each other together when we feel like we're falling apart, that is love. That is what Jesus (and many other wise humans who had tapped into their inner energy at the Source) walked the earth to tell us:
Sitting there listening to this gifted woman sing her heart out in the sanctuary with people in my community, I felt love vibrating around me. I breathed it in, there with my daughter to my right, my friend Sarah to my left, and God's love all around.
I wish you could have been there. I was too engrossed in the moment to think about recording it, but someone uploaded a recording of Goeckler singing the same song a couple of years ago, which I have the honor of sharing with you here. Peace and love to you.
Do you like ham? Do you like potato casserole, green beans, and rolls? Do you get hungry at about 11:00AM on Sunday? Would you like to have a meal with some open-hearted and open-minded people who want to make this world a better place?
If so, join Katie and me tomorrow at Grace Covenant Presbyterian Church for a 10:00 worship service and an 11:00 brunch. Here's a blurb about both from last week's church bulletin:
Sunday, December 29 - ONE SPECIAL WORSHIP SERVICE TOGETHER AT 10AM. Continue the Christmas spirit in worship with your church family. We will celebrate the sacrament of baptism. Come casual. Come alone or bring all your cousins, brothers, aunts, and friends - but just come to sing and celebrate the birth of Christ. Sunday, December 29 - 11AM BRUNCH - Join us after worship for ham, potato casserole, green beans, and rolls. A few people should bring a dessert to share (but not everyone). We suggest bringing leftover goodies you want to get out of the house. Everyone should bring their own table service and a small donation to cover the meal costs. Everyone is welcome. Invite your friends. No RSVP needed. Grace Covenant Presbyterian Church 11100 College Blvd. Overland Park, KS 66210
Years ago I helped a patron at the public library where I work. He had on a t-shirt that said, "People with mental illness enrich our lives". It was as if time stood still the moment I saw it. I thought to myself, "Yes, yes, that is true. I'm so glad someone else thinks it."
This is the organization where he got the shirt. NAMI: National Alliance on Mental Illness. They are a wonderful reminder that people who live with mental illness (such as yours truly: post-traumatic stress disorder, major depression, OCD, eating disorders) are human beings with both good qualities and bad qualities. Your friends and loved ones and neighbors and fellow humans whose neural synapses don't fire the way yours do would like to be treated the same way you treat anyone else. With respect. With understanding. With patience. With love.
Thanks for being my friend. I know sometimes it's challenging, but I hope it's sometimes enriching too. NAMI is 400 "likes" away from 100,000 on Facebook. Help them reach this 100K milestone by the New Year. Like their page here and please share! Find out other ways you can help this great organization here.
After the abundance of Christmas loot our seven-year-old made off with this year, from generous aunts and uncles and grandparents and cousins and friends, it's time to weed out some of Katie's old toys. In previous years, Katie's been hesitant to give up her stuff, even after I've complained to her that if she hasn't played with her baby rattle since she was eighteen months old, maybe it's time to get rid of it. This year I got smart and added a little detail to my offer.
"What if we give the toys you've outgrown to a poor little girl or boy whose parents don't have enough money to buy them lots of toys?" I said.
Katie's eyes lit up. "Or an orphan who has no parents or a homeless child who has no home," Katie suggested. Katie's a sucker for a sob story. The worse, the better. It's wonderful to see her shift her interest from an abundance of material possessions to an abundant heart.
I agreed to help Katie sort through her old toys and decide which ones to donate to charity. Please let me know if you have suggestions for a great charity that will take used toys.
We're taking bets now for how long it will take Katie and me to clean her bedroom.
What do you say?
a) two hours
b) two days
c) two years
d) the two of us give up before we finish
Amazingly, it only took us 1 hour and forty-five minutes to sort through Katie's toys and clean her bedroom.
About half-way through the big clean up:
After the big clean up:
Thanks to Uncle Chris and Aunt Dale for the TMNT toy organizer.
And no, we didn't just move all the junk to the kitchen table.
We can now see Katie's bedroom floor!
And this is the out-grown toy Katie has decided to give to another child:
"I can reach the real sink now, Mom. I don't need a baby sink anymore."
I think I'm sorry to see it go more than she is. I hope the new child loves it as much as Katie once did, and as much as I still do, remembering my baby playing with it. What seems like just yesterday.
On our way to church on Christmas Eve, Katie and I were talking about whether or not if you took the word gravity out of the dictionary it would cease to exist. I missed our exit.
It all started when Katie announced from the back seat of the car, "I want to be in the Christmas play!"
"You do?" I asked.
First I'd hear of it. Our girl usually claims she's too shy if anyone asks her to perform. She's much less shy than she was when she was three. That's the year Katie hid in her bedroom crying because she didn't want to come out into the living room because it was too full of smiling people wanting to give her presents and sing "Happy Birthday" to her. At seven, she's warmed up to the idea of large crowds starring at her as long as presents and cake are involved, but she usually buries her head in my armpit if I ask her to sing a song for more than three people. I had no idea she wanted to be in the Christmas play at church. It was our first time and I wasn't sure if she knew what it was all about.
"Yes, I think it would be fun," she responded. "I could pet the lamb!"
"Well, I think you have to be in the children's choir to be in the Christmas play," I warned. I honestly wasn't sure if this was true or not, but I wanted to lay down a little speed bump on her road. Force her to slow down and consider what she's saying. I'd asked her before if she wanted to join the church choir and got a resounding "Nope!"
"Oh," she sighed. "I don't want to be in the children's choir." I could hear the frown on her face.
"Why don't you want to be in the children's choir?" I asked.
"Because I don't like to sing in front of lots of people," Katie said in an annoyed, monotone voice like Mom, why are you asking a question you already know the answer to?
"Singing in a choir is just like singing during the church service when everyone stands and sings from the hymnals," I reasoned. I know she sings then because I can hear her sweet voice. "It's not so embarrassing if you mess up because everyone else's voice covers up your mistake," I explained.
"It's not the same," Katie said, firmly.
"How is it not the same?" I asked.
"Because I don't want a thousand pairs of eyes starring at me," Katie explained. "When you sing with the choir you have to stand in front of everyone."
"Yeah, I know what you mean. I don't like people starring at me either," I agreed. "But I don't think a thousand people would fit into the church sanctuary," I one-upped her reasoning.
"Well, a thousand people would fit into the church sanctuary if there was no gravity," Katie countered.
"Why?" I laughed.
"Because they'd float up to the tall ceiling. More people could fit inside the sanctuary if we could float around," Katie explained.
"Well, too bad there's gravity," I said. My cheeks were getting sore from smiling at Katie's comment.
"Mom, I wonder what would happen if we took the word gravity out of the dictionary?" Katie asked.
Right then I missed our exit. It's difficult for me to laugh and drive at the same time.
"Well, we could try it, but I don't think removing a word from the dictionary makes it cease to exist," I said before I changed the subject. "Dang it, I missed our exit!"
Katie pouted as I turned the car around and headed back toward the church. She was annoyed that we were running late anyway, and these extra few blocks would make us even that much later. I grew up with two uber-punctual parents. People who'd show up no later than twenty minutes early for everything. As a naturally poky person, they used to drive me crazy. Now I drive Katie crazy. If I had a dollar for every time she nags, "Mom, can we just go now?" whenever we're getting ready to go somewhere and I've suddenly got the motivation to fix the blinds I'd broken five days ago, or do the dishes, or feed the pets, I'd have enough money to pay her future therapy bills.
About a block away from the church, we saw three teenagers, two boys and one girl, walking in robes down the sidewalk. The two boys had on crowns and the girl had on a veil. All three carried torches.
I pointed toward them and exclaimed, "Do you think those are the Three Wise Men?"
"Mom," Katie said with impatience in her voice like how can my mom be so dumb sometimes? "They're called the three wise MEN. Not the two wise men and one wise woman." Winter break from public school be damned. Our conversation began with science, moved on to math, and now we were headed on toward church doctrine.
"Well, this is a pretty progressive church. I wouldn't be surprised if they allow a woman to be one of the magi traveling to greet baby Jesus," I said. Then what one of the Three Wise People did made me laugh.
"Did you see that?" I asked Katie.
"See what?" she asked.
"One of The Three Wise Men pulled his phone out of his pocket and checked it," I laughed as I turned on the blinker to indicate we were ready to turn into the church parking lot. Who knows? Maybe he was checking to see how they were doing on time, but it sure looked funny from our angle.
"You'd think one of The Three Wise Men wouldn't need to check his GPS to see where he's going. Even I know that part of the story," I chuckled some more, turning into a parking spot.
As Katie hopped out of the car, I saw her cup her hand over her mouth and call out, "You're supposed to follow the star!"
We made it to our seats in a pew off to the side of the sanctuary about five minutes after the nativity play had started. A kind stranger tapped Katie on the shoulder and asked if she'd ever been to the Children's Christmas Eve Service. Katie shook her head. She surprised me when she so easily took the lady's hand, letting her lead the way to the front of the sanctuary so she could have a better view.
Not much later the three teenagers we'd seen walking on the sidewalk outside burst through the side door as the narrator quoting scripture announced their arrival. All phones were tucked neatly away inside their robes. And yes, one of the "Three Wise Men" was a woman. I later learned the church calls them the "Three Wise Travelers".
After the Three Wise Travelers entered the sanctuary, the congregation stood and we sang We Three Kings of Orient Are. It could have been my imagination, but I think I heard Katie up front, singing the loudest.
The bulletin urged parents to retrieve their children as the congregation sang Go, Tell It on the Mountain. When Katie saw me walking toward her, she smiled so bright it mesmerized me. We grabbed hands and walked together back to the pew. She sank into me and we listened to a beautiful rendition of Gesu Bambino by a young woman named Jenna Lillian.
After the benediction I chatted with a friend of a friend as we grabbed our coats and headed out of the sanctuary. Katie pulled on my sleeve and looked up at me with a frown on her face.
"What's wrong?" I asked. "Didn't you like the Christmas play?"
"I loved it. But I could hardly see the chickens and the lamb from where I was sitting," she complained.
Just then we walked out the church doors and Katie's frown turned upside down. There stood three shepherds--two young men and one young woman--cradling the chickens and the lamb in their arms for us to pet them. When the little lamb started "baaaaaa-ing", Katie sang, "Baaaaaaa!" back and the young woman playing the shepherd smiled and said, "You sound just like her."
It's Christmas Eve! Holy shit! How did that happen so quickly?
This morning, as I was running around the house like a Christmas duck with its head cut off, trying to check everything off my "to do" list, I realized I didn't have a fancy Christmas dress for our seven-year-old daughter Katie to wear. Each previous year, someone in our family who has her act together way more than I do always manged to send us a hand-me-down fancy Christmas dress for Katie to wear. I vaguely recall getting something red and fancy among all the clothes in the sack of hand-me-downs Will's mom gave us earlier this year, but as I searched for it this morning in Katie's closet to no avail, I began to panic.
Me: "Katie, we might have to go to Once Upon a Child to get you a fancy Christmas dress."
Me: "So you can wear it to the children's Christmas Eve service at church tonight."
Katie: "Mom. I don't need a fancy Christmas dress."
Me: "You don't? Why not?"
Katie: "Mom, that's not what Christmas is all about."
Katie: "No. Christmas isn't all about wearing fancy dresses. It's about the birth of Jesus. Jesus doesn't care if I wear a fancy Christmas dress."
Once again, our seven-year-old child proves to be the wisest person I know.
If you'd like to join us this evening, Katie and I are going to the children's worship service at this really awesome, progressive (read: nonjudgmental) church at 5PM. My friend Sarah says they bring in live animals for the nativity play. It should be fun. And don't worry. No one will judge you if you show up in pajama pants. That's what Katie might be wearing, since my sister Glenda gave her some red Kansas City Chiefs pajama pants for Christmas this year, and so far it's the only red thing I can find for Katie to wear.
Here's more info from the Grace Covenant Presbyterian Church website: Christmas Eve Worship Services God calls us to come a little closer, EVEN IF … we have never been to church or not been in years, we left in anger or just faded away, we go all the time, but still wonder why we aren’t sure what we believe or whether we believe. No matter what has happened or who we are – if we are rich as kings or poor as shepherds– God calls us to come closer to hear the story that changed everything and to open our hearts to the light of the world. Visitors are a special blessing to Grace Covenant this time of year. Please join us at one of our three services to share in the hope, peace and joy that will renew our world. 5pm Children’s Service: an experience full of wonder and surprises. 7:30pm Carol Service: with special music provided by our Youth Choir. 10:45pm Candlelight Communion: a Service of Lessons and Carols. Music provided by our Chancel Choir, Instrumentalists, and Soloists. Something wonderful is about to happen–and we want you to be there with us.
Here's a photo of the 2010 Christmas Eve service I snagged off GCPC's Facebook page:
I can't praise this store enough. A locally owned Mom and Pop shop in midtown, it's the best place in Greater Kansas City to buy gifts. They sell handmade clothes, pop culture T-shirts and accessories, music, Archie McPhee toys and oddities (where else can you lay your hands on a tin box of Jesus band-aids?), progressive political bumper stickers, candles, incense, and just about anything else a hippie would love.
Doing some last-minute Christmas shopping today, I didn't quite have enough money to buy all the things I wanted. I was going to put some of the items back. One of the items I didn't want to put back, but I wasn't sure if it would fit the person I'm giving it to, so the owner tried it on for me and helped me decide. Then, after all that, he gave it to me for free so I could afford to buy the other things I wanted too.
I spent way less money than I would have at Target or Kohl's or any big box store, got cooler stuff, and left with a smile on my face and gratitude in my heart.
A friend gave our seven-year-old daughter her first chemistry set for Christmas.
She loves it. Here she is, on the first day of winter break from public school, looking at dirt under her microscope. Earlier in the day she had been pretending she was a princess. She didn't bother changing out of her Cinderella costume before she switched gears and started pretending to be a scientist.
Happy Holidays from our Scientist Princess! Be who you are in the coming new year.
Great episode of CrashCourse, as usual, but I disagree with John Green's decision to emphasize historians' views that Carter's was a failed presidency. I maintain Jimmy Carter was the best president our great nation ever had.
"We kept our country at peace. We never went to war. We never dropped a bomb. We never fired a bullet. But still we achieved our international goals. We brought peace to other people, including Egypt and Israel. We normalised relations with China, which had been non-existent for 30-something years. We brought peace between US and most of the countries in Latin America because of the Panama Canal Treaty. We formed a working relationship with the Soviet Union." --President Jimmy Carter
Carter's belief in peace and human worth--and his actions based on those beliefs--shaped my political views profoundly. I was nearly six when Carter was elected president. I grew up watching him on TV. He reminded me of Mister Rogers. Both men were fans of sweaters and progressive Christianity. I believe that is no coincidence.
"As an ordained Presbyterian minister and a man of tremendous faith, Mister Rogers preached tolerance first. He never engaged in the culture wars. All he would ever say was 'God loves you just the way you are.'" --John Green
What kind of United States President gets on national TV and tells the American people to put on a sweater and quit being so greedy with the planet's energy resources? The kind who actually cares about the earth and not ratings and re-election.
Everyone complains about Carter's handling of the Iran Hostage Crisis, but because of Carter, historians call it the Iran Hostage Crisis and not the Iran War. It's because of Carter's mountain-like strength that he was able to achieve peace in a crisis and not allow it to escalate into war.
Say what you will about Carter's weakness as president. I love Jimmy Carter just the way he is.
His '56 Chevy pickup truck should have tipped me off that I was marrying a Luddite. But it didn't. I just thought he was a guy that likes old cars. Turns out it's not just cars. He likes old. Including women. Lucky for me.
I assumed since Will is ten years younger than I am that he'd be keeping me up-to-date on the latest gadgetries. Isn't that what Millennials are known for? Showing us old folks how to use our phones?
My thirty-two year old husband doesn't even own a cell phone. Never has. He's borrowed mine a couple of times when he needed it for work, but he always hands it back to me in a hurry and rushes off with Katie to play The Legend of Zelda: The Ocarina of Time on his still-working Nintendo 64.
I'm not much more up-to-date. I just got my first cell phone a couple of years ago after Katie and I got stranded in a shady part of town when the timing belt on my car picked a bad time to go out on me. But I have an excuse for being such a latecomer to the technology game. Two excuses. I just turned forty-three and my frugal ass dad just turned eighty-six.
In other words, when I was first born I lived in a house that didn't have central air conditioning. My dad bought a window unit, but he'd only run it in his own bedroom at night. The rest of us went to bed with wet washcloths on our foreheads and boxfans pointed directly at our beds. I thought everyone popped popcorn on the stove with oil in a pan and everyone knew it took an hour to fix a baked potato since we didn't get a microwave until I was about twelve. I was fourteen when we got our first VCR. When we signed up for our video card at the mom and pop video store around the corner from our house--before those bastards at Blockbuster came to town and ate up Mom and Pop's video business, before Netflix ate up Blockbuster--the first video we rented was "A Room with a View." We had it out on a five-day loan. Mom and I must have paused the part where the naked men are running around a pond about a hundred times, giggling, during that five-day loan. Later, when mom figured out how to work the machine, she taped a copy of the movie for me when it was on TV. She didn't cut out the commercials, so if you ever want to see Bill Cosby sell pudding pops, stop by and I'll pop the tape in.
I'm serious. It's almost 2014 and we have three working VCRs in our house. Two were given to us by loved ones whose pity for us almost equals their love for us. One Will bought for five bucks at a garage sale.
"We already have two!" I yelled when he brought it home.
"Now we have three," Will smiled. He's so shitty to argue with. He mostly just doesn't, and then I feel like a jerk.
"But what if it doesn't work. You know, they haven't sold those in a store for years. There's no one around who repairs those things anymore," I chided.
"So what? It was five bucks. If it doesn't work I can take it apart and tinker with it."
He has a point. What's five bucks for a good tinker?
But it does work and we watch VHS tapes on it all the time. Will frequents garage sales and pop culture shops that sell used videos for two bucks a piece. Katie is well cultured in 80s and 90s pop culture.
Tonight I walked into the living room and saw this case open:
This face was on the screen:
And then this one followed:
The tape was rewinding, but still projecting on screen.
"Don't you want to push stop first and then rewind?" I asked Katie, who was sitting on the couch eating a burrito.
"It's broken," she said with her mouth full. We're doing a half-way decent job of raising a kid who is aware of pop culture's historical significance, but we're pretty crummy at raising a kid who is well cultured enough to not talk with her mouth full.
"What's broken?" I probably gasped a little more than a normal person should.
"The stop and then rewind. It won't rewind that way. It just goes to play."
I'm not much of a tinkerer, so I wasn't about to try to fix it. I offered all I could. "Do you want me to take it into our bedroom and rewind it faster on that VCR?"
"No, that's OK. I like it this way," Katie said, looking back at the screen.
"Watching it backwards?" I asked, chuckling.
"Yeah," she said, not looking away from the screen.
"Was this movie at the very end of the tape when you began watching it backwards?" I asked.
"Yep," Katie said.
"You've watched nearly the whole thing from the end to the beginning?" I asked, not quite sure I believed she had the patience to do that, even on slow-rewind.
"Yep. I like it this way."
Can you stream a movie from the end to the beginning? I don't think so. See what kids with more modern parents are missing out on? A different perspective. We're not depriving our child with our lack of modern devices. We're teaching her history.
The only musical instrument I can sorta play is the piano. The only song I can play on the piano is the first and only song I ever learned.
I'm proud to say I can still play it. Both because my memory is long and my anxiety is managed. Here I am playing it today:
My sister Kitty taught me the song from her book Teaching Little Fingers to Play by John Thompson. I was about three when she taught me the song. I'm forty-three now and I never practice playing it, yet the song is stuck inside my head like the first phone number we had.
I was told to memorize our phone number before I could start kindergarten, so I did: 279-2580. I can barely remember the current phone number I have. Something about early childhood memories makes them stick better than more recent ones. 279-2580. That sequence of numbers might as well have been branded into my brain. I will never forget them. Same as with the first and only piano song I learned to play.
It's so easy. Just three fingers. Well, two fingers and a thumb. Thumb on Middle C, pointer on the white key next to Middle C, and tall man on the next white key...
Here we go (thumb, pointer, tall man)
Up a row (thumb, pointer, tall man)
To a birthday par-ty. (pointer, thumb, pointer, tall man, thumb, thumb)
I used to cringe every time I'd think of that song. Now I've taught it to my daughter.
I was hesitant to teach it to her. The song has such a horrible meaning for me. But I was put on the spot with her question, "Mom, do you know any songs?" I didn't know what to say other than, "Yes, I do."
"Teach me, Mom," she said.
So I did without thinking too much about what it was I was doing.
Katie picked up the song right away. She giggled each time she finished it, proud of her achievement. Her innocence, her freedom, her open-mind. Her smiles make me smile. I watched her play this horrible song several times. I knew I was going to be fine. Katie's going to be fine. Everything will be fine.
Katie played the song for her daddy when he got home from work.
He said, "Oh yeah?" and then sat down to show her what he knows.
Which is a lot more than I do. Will's been teaching himself how to play the piano. Now he can teach Katie. She will not get stuck knowing just one song. Her repertoire will be full if she wants it to be. She will not know the agony of knowing just one horrible song.
I have fantasies of playing the piano in front of huge crowds of people. Like Elton John. Or Ben Folds. Or Tori Amos. Or Fiona Apple. They are pure fantasies. Nothing I will ever achieve. That would involve overcoming two of my biggest anxiety triggers: public performance and playing piano.
I've gotta watch myself that I don't try to live vicariously through Katie, now that she's showing an interest in piano. Neither Will nor I push Katie much. If she shows an interest in something such as piano playing, we encourage it, but we try not to turn it into a chore. If you have to remind someone to practice, they probably aren't as interested in the thing you want them to practice as much as you are.
As with all things parenting, turns out I learned just as much by teaching our daughter my horrible song as she did. By not holding back and keeping it a secret inside myself, I can now see the beauty in it. A simple song to begin a life of creative exploration. No longer a song to cover up the noise from the bad things going on in the room behind the piano.
Around the same time my sister Kitty taught me how to play the song, my brother Pat, about 13, started sexually abusing my friend and me. It lasted a couple of years, but the trauma I experienced has lasted a lifetime. But it's not all I've experienced. It's one horrible thing that's happened to me in a lifetime of both good and bad events.
We'd take turns. I would play the song on the piano while my brother would take my friend's hand and lead her into his bedroom, curtained off behind the upright piano. Then, when it was my turn to take my brother's hand and go into the room, my friend would sit at the piano and play the song.
Here we go.
Up a row.
To a birthday par-ty.
Oh how I used to hate that song.
Now, incredibly, that song makes me smile.
How can that be? Emotions all tangled up inside the notes I hear that trigger memories, simultaneously hearing these same notes in the present moment. Opening myself up to hearing a song from a different perspective changed my life.
A labor simulation was connected to these Christian dads from Kensington Church who where curious as to what the labor thing is all about. Finally the truth comes out about the perils of child bearing! :) The results of this simulator were HILARIOUS.
I'm not quite sure what being Christian has to do with this video. I can see how labor simulation would be a great lesson in empathy for many men, regardless of faith, or lack of faith. Maybe Faithrefreshed is inferring that, since Jesus taught us to love each other, Christians who seek ways to understand what another person is going through are treating love as it should be treated, as an action verb.
But lots of people of varying faiths and secular beliefs seek ways to understand what another person is going through, so yeah, you don't have to be a Christian to appreciate the video above.
The truth is, if you, like me, can't help but laugh at other people's pain, this video's for you! Why is that? Why is seeing video footage of someone getting hurt so often freaking hilarious? Am I a bad person for laughing at this kind of stuff?
It cracks me up that, although the men are obviously learning a lesson in empathy, the wives are laughing and high-fiving each other while the husbands are screaming in agony. What is it about watching people purposefully put themselves through physically painful situations that is so freaking funny?
Why do I laugh so hard I cry when I watch videos of people falling down while attempting to do stupid stunts in their backyard? Is it because I can relate? Is it because I'm the person who's tried to hop on my hammock all graceful-like, only to topple over and land in a pile of dogshit? The only difference between me and some poor schmuck whose friends posted a video of her falling in a pile of dogshit is that I haven't been caught on video yet.
Why do we laugh at other people's pain? Because we're empathetic. We understand what pain feels like. Why do we laugh at other people's pain? Because we're selfish jerks. We're just glad it's not us feeling the pain this time. That's what being human is. We're empathetic selfish jerks. What's not funny about that?
So yeah, enjoy the video of these two dads going through labor simulation and their wives reaction to their agony. It's freaking hilarious.
Think of all the money wasted on diet products throughout modern history. Think of all the rich women who once bought "sanitized tape worms" from a jar in an effort to maintain their slim figures when all they had to do was donate the money they paid these weight-loss charlatans to a charity that could ship them off to a poor nation where they'd have the honor of acquiring tape worms naturally.
I think modern women can learn a lesson by studying old advertisements. Quit trying to have a perfect body. Be who you are. Use the energy you burn worrying that your body is not good enough and put it to good use helping others. Give up your expensive diet tricks and give your disposable income to poor people. Then you will have riches that actually make you feel good about yourself.
New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
21 Jesus said to him, “If you wish to be perfect, go, sell your possessions, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.”
The Equality House is this amazing place some peace loving humans built across from Fred Phelp's Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, Kansas. The Equality House makes me proud to be a Kansan. Here's a blurb from their website:
"Directly across from the Westboro Baptist Church, the Equality House is a symbol of equality, peace, and positive change and will serve as the resource center for all Planting Peace equality and anti-bullying initiatives."
Merry Christmas and may it be a peaceful New Year!
Katie was in bed next to me, trying to get me up. I still had my eyes closed, but I could feel her hot breath next to my cheek and her voice in my ear.
"Mom, I wanna tell you something."
This is how our conversations almost always begin. I never know if what's to follow will be mind-blowingly philosophical, banal pleas to do something about her hunger or thirst, information I simply don't want to receive regarding one of the pets' bodily fluids discovered somewhere in the house, or simply something humorous or curious she's observed.
"Tell me something," I said without opening my eyes.
"I just watched this video on YouTube..." she began.
My eyes opened. Uh oh. What's this about? That's what I get for sleeping in and letting our seven-year-old surf our unfiltered net unsupervised.
"Oh, yeah? About what?" I asked, trying not to let my worries show. I'd hate for Katie to develop my personal tendency toward overreacting to difficult situations, so I try to hide my internal worries around her in an attempt to model mellowness. It doesn't work. She can detect my most subtle bullshit.
"Don't worry. It was funny," Katie assured me.
"Oh good. So what did you want to tell me?" I rubbed away some eye boogers and rolled over to face her.
"Well. There were these three people stranded on an island. And a boat was coming to save them. One of them shouted, 'bring water!' The other one shouted, 'bring food!' And the last one yelled, 'bring toilet paper!'"
A long, drawn-out giggle fit ensued. Katie rolled around the bed as if she'd said the funniest thing ever.
I chuckled, more at her reaction to the story than the story itself. "Well, yeah, I can see that. I'd hate to go for a long time without toilet paper too."
"But it's not as important as water and food!" Katie corrected me, still laughing.
"Well, yeah, but let's see you say that when you've gone without it," I countered.
"Well, if it was the olden days that guy would have shouted out, 'bring dried corn!'" Katie announced, prompting her to laugh even more.
"What?" I honestly didn't get the joke.
"You know. You said your dad told you in the olden days people used dried corn to wipe their bottoms because they were too poor to afford toilet paper," Katie explained.
"Oh, yeah." I smiled big, proud of her incredible memory. I can't believe some of the things she remembers that I've only told her once, a long time ago. "Corncobs," I said. "My dad called them 'roastin' ears'. But yeah, that's what he said his relatives used in the outhouse on the farm before they had toilet paper," I clenched my jaw and shook my head. "Ouch. We sure are lucky nowadays."
"Yeah, Mom. You're right. We are lucky to have toilet paper," Katie agreed.
In this time of overabundance, thirteen days before Christmas, when corporations are blasting us with ads to buy! buy! buy! their shit, I'm happy to hear our girl appreciates the simple things in life. Like toilet paper.
Katie's second grade teacher is awesome. When you ask Katie what her favorite thing about school is now, she'll instantly exclaim, "Just Dance 4!"
She's learned all the moves to the Just Dance 4 version of One Direction's hit song "What Makes You Beautiful."
The school doesn't own the game, but her resourceful teacher plays this video from YouTube during their morning "fitness break," and the kids follow along to the steps. There are no pads to step on or controllers to hold to keep score of how well you're dancing. It's just fun and great exercise.
Because of state regulations the students can no longer have two recesses per day. Katie's grade's recess isn't scheduled until an hour before school gets out. So I can imagine the kids are dying in the morning. After all that math and reading and listening and not talking and sitting still, there must be some squirmy worms sitting in those little chairs, trying to learn but having trouble staying focused.
If I'm in a meeting at work that goes on for more than an hour I have to stand up and stretch my legs. I get antsy if I'm forced to sit still longer than that. I can't focus on what's going on in the meeting because the only thing I'm thinking is this chair hurts my ass--when do we get a break?
I'm thirty-five years older than Katie is, so things were quite different when I was a kid. We never had music in class, unless it was specifically music class, but that was in a different room with a different teacher and those songs were not pop songs. And we certainly weren't allowed to dance inside our classroom. The closest thing we got to enjoying a fitness break inside our classroom while dancing to music was when we got to dosey doe around our partners in gym class as we begrudgingly learned how to square dance.
The sun was out so I decided to walk to pick Katie up from school instead of driving. The air was chilly, but the sun felt good on my face. My big puffy coat might make me look like the Michelin Man, but it's the warmest coat I've ever owned, so I wasn't cold at all during the quick dash around the corner.
Katie was already outside waiting for me, her face smiling under her Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles knit hat. As she walked toward me I saw she was carrying her coat.
"Put your coat on! It's way too cold to walk outside without a coat!" I bossed her around before I bothered to say hello.
"Mom. I'm hot," Katie said with a tone in her voice that made it sound like she didn't appreciate the tone in my voice. She tugged at the collar of her thick sweater. "I've been hot all day!" She stuck her tongue out dramatically like she was suffocating.
"Oh," I said, stopping to look her over. I turned around and we proceeded to walk next to each other along the sidewalk. "I guess that sweater is warm?"
"Yes. And, I'm hot blooded. I'm not like you, Mom. I think you're cold blooded," Katie smiled just like her daddy does when he's teasing me.
"Oh yeah? Well. I'm a mammal, and mammals are all warm blooded," I explained, pretending to not get the joke.
"No Mom! You're cold blooded. You're cold ALL THE TIME," Katie exclaimed.
"Well, I might have poor circulation, but I'm still a warm blooded animal," I winked at her so she knew I was kidding her back.
"I think you're really a reptile, Mom," Katie laughed at the thought.
"Oh yeah? What kind of reptile?" I asked, grabbing her hand to warm it. She wasn't wearing her gloves either.
"You're a turtle. Yeah, definitely a turtle," Katie decided.
"Why am I a turtle?" I asked, assuming she was going to say something about mutantization.
"Because you are so slow to wake up in the morning!" Katie laughed and laughed.
"Well, you've got me there, " I said, chuckling.
Our conversation was interrupted suddenly by a high pitched wail coming from the two girls walking ahead of us. We both quit talking and looked up to see what was going on. The bigger girl, a second-grader in Katie's class said, "If you're gonna push me I'm gonna push you back," and then proceeded to follow through by pushing the littler girl, who I assume is her sister since we see them walking home together all the time. The littler girl pushed the bigger girl back. Then the bigger girl pushed the littler girl harder. She lost her balance and her boot skidded off the sidewalk and landed on a patch of snowy grass, which made her wobble even more. The bigger girl kept on walking without waiting to see if the littler girl was OK.
I started walking faster so I could ask the littler girl if she was OK, but before I could get to her she started running toward the bigger girl whining, "Wait for me!"
I felt sorry for the littler girl, although it sounds like she's the one who started the fight. It's too bad their parents aren't around to break up their fight. But then again, what do I know? Maybe fighting with your siblings builds strength of character, toughening your feelings up enough that you don't burst into tears whenever anyone criticizes you, like I do. My siblings were too much older than I was to fight with me. They treated me more like their living baby doll than a sibling rival.
Katie interrupted my thoughts by grunting, "Ugh!"
"What's wrong?" I asked.
Katie nodded her head in the girls' direction and said, "The whining. Mom, is that what it's like to have a little sister?"
I looked at her and smiled, realizing that she was seeing things from the bigger girl's perspective. Ugh. Whiny little brat. Why are you always following me around. Why do I have to look after you when Mom and Dad aren't around? This is not fair.
"I don't know. I never had a little sister. But I imagine it's like that for lots of kids," I said.
"Well, you can cross that off my Christmas List," Katie said, smiling slyly.
"Cross what off your Christmas List?" I asked.
"A little sister. I don't want a little sister after all," Katie said.
I laughed so hard I choked on my own spit and started coughing. Katie patted my back. When I could breathe again I said, "Well, I guess you're not too disappointed about being an only child anymore? Remember when you were younger and you'd complain that you didn't have a brother or a sister?" I smiled, thankful she's broadening her view of the situation.
"Yeah, but I'm in second grade now, Mom. I know lots of stuff I didn't know back then. I know I do not want a whiny little sister, that's for sure!"
We walked along holding hands, grateful for each other.
I looked up and saw that the littler girl had caught up to the bigger girl. I couldn't hear them anymore, but by the time the Crossing Guard walked them to the other side of the street I saw them both laughing about something.
No matter what kind of life we're given, there are bad moments and good moments.
I used to feel sorry for Katie, that my subfertility ruined her chance of having a little sister. But as time passes, as we both grow and have new experiences, I see Katie's going to be fine no matter what life gives her.
Until I had a kid of my own, I spent most of my adult life rolling my eyes at most holiday traditions. I didn't buy a Christmas tree for my studio apartment when I was single. I could barely find a spot to put the litter box. I didn't decorate with lights and wreaths and candles. I just didn't care. The commercialism, the buy! buy! buy! attitude of Christmas irritated me, so I shrugged it all off. Until I came across this plastic Nativity at a dimestore.
"My favorite Nativity: Mary, Joseph, Baby Jesus, and a Lamb" (resin and dust)
It's the first Christmas decoration I bought myself, way back in my twenties. For many years it was the only Christmas decoration I ever put out. Usually on my desk, next to the word processor my mom bought me to type out my always unfinished stories. It would inevitably turn into a paper weight each year, holding down abandoned but not quite ready to recycle pieces of paper ripped from my word processor.
Some years I'd forget to pack it back up until it was nearly Christmastime again. Might as well leave it out year-round. It's gathered so much dust over the years that Mary, Joseph, and Baby Jesus' skin looks more grey than brown. My ex-girlfriend Theresa, an African-American woman, would say their skin looks ashy.
"Mary, Joseph, and Baby Jesus need some lanolin from that sheep there!" she'd say. Theresa and I long ago parted ways, but damn she was funny.
When I bought the Nativity, I thought to myself, is it racist for white people to own black Christmas knickknacks? Is this too much like a white person collecting Aunt Jemima figurines, someone who hangs in their recroom tin advertisements from days gone by when it was OK to have a white spokesperson in blackface sling your loot?
My dusty plastic black Nativity is the only religious relic we have in our house. I think. We've lived here over nine years. I'm so used to it by now, I'm prone to not notice what's right in front of my face. So there could be some crucifix or some Precious Moment angel planted somewhere in our house by some religious relative and I just haven't noticed.
We have a couple of Bibles that were given to us. Oh, and we have a Buddy Christ figurine that watches over me while I cook dinner. But the dusty plastic black Nativity is the only somewhat traditional religious figurine in our house, and even it's pushing the boundaries of what many white Christians view to be a proper Nativity.
I have no idea what Jesus, the actual man, looked like. He might have had white skin. He probably had browner skin than most famous European painters depicted him having, if you consider he's from Judea where a person's skin needs extra melanin to protect it from the sun.
I don't know what he looked like. No one does. I just know what Jesus' biographers said about him:
36 “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” 37 He said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’38 This is the greatest and first commandment. 39 And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”
I don't think Jesus paid much attention to what's proper. Right, yes, he cared about "right". Truth, for sure. But proper? I don't see it. I don't think Jesus would care if a white girl kept a dusty plastic black Nativity in her home or not. What I know about Jesus, the Jesus who resides inside my brain, is that he wanted to focus less on laws and more on love.
When I was in fifth grade I shared a bedroom with my sister Jenny. We had this picture of Jesus hanging by the door. It looked quite a lot like this fan art:
I developed this tic where I felt compelled to do two things with a fervor some mistook for religiosity, but which I now think was a symptom of the obsessive compulsive disorder I would soon be diagnosed with, along with anorexia nervosa: I had to kiss the face of Jesus before I could exit our bedroom, and when I was away from our bedroom, I had to periodically look up at the ceiling or sky to acknowledge Jesus' presence.
I remember the moment I peaked my compulsion. I was sitting in the living room with my sister Jenny and our mom, crossed legged on the couch, eyeballs aching from all the upward movement.
"You don't have to look up toward Heaven to see Jesus," Jenny said. She smiled gently, knowing how sensitive I am. It's due to Jenny's guiding love that I was able to stop rolling my eyes to Heaven.
So I keep no pictures of Jesus in my house now. Kinda like an alcoholic should stay away from bars. I don't want my twitch to come back.
I love my dusty plastic black Nativity in a less intense way, but that's good. Sometimes I catch a glimpse of it and I smile. It reminds me of my single days, back when I lived alone in a studio apartment with this dusty plastic black Nativity keeping this lonely white girl company. Those days were lonely, but they were necessary for me to find myself. All that alone time leads to the kind of introspection that helps a person grow. In my twenties, as I sat in my studio apartment, alone but for my dusty black plastic Nativity, I was not ready to accept the warm embrace of a long term, human, relationship. I had to focus on myself before I was ready to let another person into my life.
Now I have Will and Katie, and I'm excited about Christmas like I once was as a child. A loving family helps summon the spirit. So does a prescription for sertraline, which my doctor wrote for me when I visted her a couple months ago because I didn't want to get out of bed and I couldn't stop crying.
There are still plenty of reasons to cry in this world. Just read the news. But there are also many beautiful things upon which we can focus our gaze. Will, Katie, and I went all out this year, displaying all our Christmas decorations.
Our living room
Things are pretty good in my life as long as I have Will, Katie, Jesus, sertraline, my dusty plastic black Nativity, and you, my dear friend.
I've read some literary agents' blogs that offer advice to novice writers about the best way to query agents so they'll want to help you get your book published. Never have I read a writer's response to a literary agent to help them help them get their book published. That's too bad. Why does it have to be so one-sided? Since I've become a mother, I realize how much my child has to teach me about life. Couldn't literary agents also learn from writers? Just before Thanksgiving, I emailed ten query letters to ten literary agents. I've compiled forty-six of the best essays from This Ambiguous Life, framing them as chapters of a memoir about mental health and body acceptance called My Body: From Anorexia and Anxiety to Body Acceptance and Bravery. The manuscript also includes a previously unpublished chapter about my brother’s death and my decision to talk openly as a sexual abuse survivor. It's pretty heavy, I know. It will take time to find the right literary agent. I've received three rejection responses to my query letters so far. Three out of ten ain't bad. At least they're responding. When I queried agents for my fiction manuscript, the one that's currently residing at the back of my desk drawer, the majority of them didn't even bother responding. One of the responses I got this time is so great, even though it's a rejection, it fills me with hope. And isn't that ultimately what an unpublished writer needs most? Hope. Nothing triggers writer's block more than no hope. It's romantic and all to say that I write because I'm compelled to, whether or not others ever read my words. But I'm no Emily Dickinson. If I wrote just for writing's sake, I'd be a diarist. I'm not. I'm a blogger. My intent is to share my words with the world. My hope is to get my memoir published, because that's when more people start paying attention.
So, if you're a literary agent reading this blog, thank you. And also, take note. This is the best query rejection I've ever received: Thanks for letting me take a look. I'm afraid this doesn't seem like the right project for me, but I'm sure other agents will feel differently. Best of luck placing your work! --Monica Odom
According to this news report, when it comes to toddlers, messier eaters make better learners and make better sense of their world than tidier toddlers do.
Katie is seven and she's still a messy eater. She must be a freakin genius.
No, seriously, I'm way less concerned about Katie's messy eating habits than I was before Katie and I discovered the wonderful book, Leo the Late Bloomer by Robert Kraus. Now whenever I look at Katie covered in food goo, instead of nagging her once again to use her napkin and utensils, I remind myself of the wonderful story, about a tiger cub whose father worries that he's not keeping up with his peers on all sorts of developmental milestones, but the cub's mother lets him be and tells the father that he'll bloom in his own time. This compassionate story helps me understand that my child will learn whatever she needs to know in her own time. If I model good dining ettique, eventually Katie will catch on and quit trying to eat oatmeal with her hands.
Or, maybe I could learn a thing or two by emulating my daughter. I sure do love Ethiopian food. I thought it was the spices, but maybe it's the act of eating with my hands triggering something different in my brain that I like. Maybe I'm the one who should start eating with my hands instead of nagging Katie to stop eating with hers. I wonder if this messy learning works on adults?
I know something that works on both children and adults. Reading together. It's one of the best things you can do for each other. Check out Leo the Late Bloomer from your local library. Or, it'd make a great holiday gift for anyone with a child of lap-sitting age.
***Caution: this post contains both a gruesome true-crime story and video of adorable, adoptable cats. Something for everyone!
I love crazy cat ladies. Especially this one who hosts Christmas Cats TV. Have you seen it? Watch as this grandmotherly cat lady sits in her rocker knitting and hanging out with some awesome adoptable cats. What a hilariously strange way to raise awareness of all the wonderful cats available for adoption this holiday season through the North Shore Animal League. I imagine if it weren't for Will keeping me grounded, I might end up a crazy cat lady too. I've heard Will shout so many times, "No!" whenever I'd mention something about us rescuing another orphaned pet that I long ago gave up asking. Now I just bombard my Facebook friends with pictures of desperate orphaned pets, hoping someone will come forward and save them. I know I can't reasonably save all the world's pets by myself, but I can do my best to raise awareness so others can help. I can be an orphaned-pet messenger, even if I can't adopt them all. Will knows I'm a pet-rescue addict, but over the years, with his guidance, I've learned to change my pet-hoarder tendencies.
"You wouldn't have as much time to care for the pets we already have if you brought in more," Will reasons with me.
He's right. When Will first met me, I was living in a one-bedroom apartment on the ninth floor with my ex-girlfriend, six cats, and three dogs. Dogs we had to either walk down nine flights of stairs with or wait for the old elevator to get to our floor so we could take them outside, in whatever weather, to go potty. I barely had time to pet them all. I don't even remember all the cats' names. I started to view my caretaking duties as a pain and not a privilege. Now that we live in a three-bedroom ranch with a fenced-in back yard, and we're down to two dogs and one cat, I have more time to sit and do the thing you're supposed to do with orphaned animals you bring into your home: pet them. So yes, without Will to restrain my urge to help abandoned animals, I could see myself, easily, ending up with endless orphaned cats and dogs, spending more money on pet food than the electric bill, sitting under a pile of blankets covered in pet fur, lap cats covering every square inch of my lap. No room for my laptop. No room for me to write about their plight. So I've learned to rely on others to help too. If we each do a small part, change happens. I joke about what a crazy animal lover I am, but I'm not the only one. Lots of my friends say with a straight face that they like hanging out with their pets more than people. I get it. If you scroll through Google News on any given day, you'll see so many reports of humans abusing, raping, killing each other, it's easy to understand why many people would prefer to sit at home and pet their pet instead of going outside to face the brutal world. And it is brutal, but not always. Especially not with crazy cat ladies around, saving the world one feline at a time, even if it seems like too daunting of a task to do so. Humans are not the only animals who are concerned about orphans of other species. Watch this video below, but be warned. If you are out of tissue, go to the store now. It's touching.
This Huffington Postarticle about the video describes what happens:
A 2-year-old leopard cub named Legadema had just made her first kill -- a baboon -- when a baby emerged from the dead animal's pouch. Unexpectedly, Legadema ignored her meal, gently carried the baby to the safety of a tree, and began to care for the newborn.
Perhaps living beings will never fully get over their killer instincts--how odd that we often feel we must end anothers' life to survive--but it's good to see that most adults in many species across the globe recognize that orphans must be cared for, especially the ones whose orphan status is a direct result of your killer instinct. When I saw the video above, I immediately thought there are human beings who could learn a lesson in empathy from this wild beast. If a leopard can pay more attention to her maternal instinct than her killer instinct, why can't humans? We live under the false assumption that humans are the only animals that possess elevated emotions such as empathy and regret. This is simply untrue. Some individual animals respond to their inner kindness more than some individual people do. Perhaps it's possible for any sentient being to learn to change. While watching the video of the leopard caring for the orphaned baby baboon whose mother it had killed, I thought of the horrifying human tragedy that happened in my part of the globe last summer. Myeisha Turner, 28, and her three year old daughter Damyiah White were murdered in Kansas City. The murderer is still at large. Whoever this killer is, he or she walks free after leaving Myeisha Turner's son, Damyiah White's brother, a one-year-old, to wander among their dead bodies for who knows how many days.
A leopard in the wild has the decency to care for the baby of its prey. This human killed not just a mother, but a child, and left a baby, orphaned and alone, to fend for himself on that horrible summer day.
What kind of person would do that? Can that kind of inhumanity be overcome and the killer's life be turned around? Can a murderer who ignores the needs of the victim's orphan unlearn such unimaginable hate? Is the effort worth it for us to try to help?
If not, what else can we do? Sit back and just watch it happen? I can't. I gotta at least share the story. Maybe someone is out there who can help. Please, you share it too. If we each do a small part, change happens.
Yesterday the amazing human rights activist Nelson Mandela died. PBS shared on its Facebook page a photo with one of my favorite quotes that the great Mandela left with us on earth:
The man who spent twenty-seven years in prison, but still manged to free his people. His exemplary life proves hateful minds can learn to love.
Police and activists in Kansas City need witnesses to come forward with information about the murders of Myeisha Turner and Damyiah White, so someone who values human life so little can be kept off our streets until they unlearn to hate. This crime occurred at 55th and Wabash, but I don't care where you live. All victims of unsolved murders deserve us to treat each other's streets as our own.
If you have any information that could help police on this case, please call the TIPS Hotline at 816-474-TIPS (474-8477).