Sunday, August 30, 2015

The wisdom of a nine-year-old

I don't know what to do.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Katie: "Of course."

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

Katie: "Yeah."

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

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

Me: "What do you mean?"

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

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

Katie: "Maybe we could feed hungry people?"

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

Katie; "That's an excellent idea."

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

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

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

Katie: "Me, too."

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

Saturday, August 29, 2015

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

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

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

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Tuesday, August 25, 2015

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

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

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

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

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Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Adoption classes, check

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Things that bother me: housework, cooking, routine.

Things that bother Will: shit.

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

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

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

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Katie wants to be a teacher when she grows up

Katie's first day of fourth grade, August 12, 2015, age 9

Katie's excited to be back in school. Fourth grade. Wow! How did that happen? We must make life pretty boring at home during summer vacation. What else could explain her desire to go back to school? I dunno? Maybe she's a good student? Weird that I'd have a child who is a good student. My mom could not say the same about me. School was too structured for me. I was never happy unless I was doing my own thing, which was frowned upon in the suburban Kansas City school district I attended in the late Seventies/early Eighties. When grownups would ask what my favorite subject was, I said lunch and recess. 

I see now that I would have made an excellent candidate for homeschooling, but that wasn't a thing when I was a kid. Everybody went to school, whether it was public or parochial. I didn't know that a kid could just stay home and read books and explore and be curious.

When we first enrolled Katie in public school, I told myself I would never make her go to school if it turned out she doesn't like it. If she wanted to be homeschooled, I was fine with that. But we enrolled her in school because she wanted to go. She felt lonely at home. She wanted to be around kids her own age. And honestly, it felt right to send her somewhere where she could broaden her mind and her experiences. I liked the idea of her learning different ways of learning, from other teachers who have different insights than just Will and I. I still think parents are their children's primary teachers. I also know that Katie is a separate individual than I am, and that my negative experiences in school will not be her experiences. She'll have her own, both positive and negative, and hopefully she'll learn from them. 

One of the biggest things Katie seems to appreciate about school is the structure. How is it that I gave birth to someone who is obsessed with punctuality and organized time? Which is probably why she gets excited to go back to school toward the end of summer vacation. There are only so many days of sleeping til noon that even the slackeriest of kids will abide before they grow bored and want to get out and do something productive.

So Katie's back in school and she's all excited. When I got home from work, I asked how her day went. 

"It was great! Mom, when you were a kid, what was your purpose?"

Whoa, no time for chit chat, let's just get right into the heavy stuff. "My purpose? I guess my purpose was to play."

"No, no," Katie said. "I mean, when you were a kid what did you want your purpose to be when you grew up?"

"Huh." I had to think about it. When I was a kid, I didn't really think about what my purpose was. I just wanted to be around people who love me and to have fun. "What do you mean?"

"Like, what did you want to be when you grew up? Like, as a job," Katie said.

"Oh! Well, when I was really young I wanted to be a nurse. When I was about your age, I wanted to be an artist. Then by about seventh grade I wanted to be a writer."

Katie smiled.

"What do you think your purpose is," I asked.

"My purpose is to go to college and get a degree and become a teacher," Katie said.

"Wow, you no longer want to be an astronaut? Or a chef? Or, what was it?"

Katie looked at me pitifully and reminded me, "A baker?"

"Yes, a baker. You no longer want to be a baker?"

"No, I want to be a teacher when I grow up," Katie said.

I don't remember as a kid thinking much about what kind of career I wanted when I grew up. I lived way more in the here and now. Katie lives in the world of possibilities. I'm happy for her, no matter what she wants to be when she grows up.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Last Week Tonight with John Oliver: Sex Education (HBO): Best Sex Ed Video Ever!

Watch this video. It's amazing.

***trigger warning: sexual abuse:

There are innumerable things that suck about being a sexual abuse survivor, but one of the suckiest is that nobody wants to talk about it. I mean, seriously? Eew. Sexual abuse is easily kept secret because it's embarrassing to talk about. It's even easier to talk about physical abuse than it is to talk about sexual abuse. If you tell someone that your brother and his friend locked you inside his basement bedroom and beat the shit out of you when you were five, they offer sympathy and ask questions to deepen their understanding of the incident. Oh my goodness! How awful! What did your parents do when they found out? 

If you tell someone that your brother and his friend locked you inside his basement bedroom and fucked the shit out of you when you were five, they become silent. Who blames them? They don't know what to say. Because, really, what do you say to that kind of horrible information? There is no guidebook that offers ideas on what you can say in return when someone drops a heavy load of traumatic memories onto your conversation. That's what paid professionals are for.

I always up the awkwardness factor whenever anyone asks the age at which I lost my virginity. I never know what to say. Was I five? Technically, yes. That's not fair, in our culture that shines its approving gaze upon virgins as if their pristine adherence to abstinence only education  makes them something special. Not just special. Pure.

I don't know why, but this is a topic that comes up a lot in Americans' conversations: virginity. It's such a big deal for some reason I don't understand. Our society is so weird about sex. Sex is relegated to something both holy and profane. We are taught from a young age that sex is dirty unless we are married, our hands slapped away from our genitals. No, no! No touching your privates. That word, no. We shout it at our kids, but we don't teach them how to use it. Somehow we forget to tell our sons and daughters that the word no is a perfectly reasonable answer if you want it to be. It's OK to say no to your older siblings and their friends. It's OK to say no to anybody.

And, when you're mature enough to understand what giving consent means, it's OK to say yes.

Girls who like to have sex are not sluts. Girls who decide to have sex before they get married, and for that matter women who decide to never get married, they are normal, healthy human beings. It's normal to want to have sex. It's not normal to force someone to have sex with you if they don't want to. These are the things we need to teach our children.

It's hard to talk about sex with our kids. But it's important. Keeping kids in the dark about sex leads to unwanted pregnancies, diseases, and abuse.

It breaks my heart to hear Elizabeth Smart talk about the way her sex ed teacher talked about girls who have sex before marriage. Chewed up piece of gum.

"I'm that chewed up piece of gum," she said. Elizabeth Smart was kidnapped and sexually abused when she was fourteen. And yet, by her teacher's standards, through no fault of her own, Smart is a chewed up piece of gum.

Me, too.

See how stupid that is? Do you see why we need to share our stories of abuse? You're not alone. I feel that way, too, feels really good to someone used to hiding behind her shield of secrets.

Saturday, August 1, 2015

On not going along to get along

Last night Will and I were play-fighting. He kept teasing me, saying ridiculous things, trying to get my goat. Like a second-grade boy pulling my braids. I wasn't letting him get away with it. For every verbal assault he'd attempt, I'd fling it right back at him. Finally he stopped, looking all doe-eyed and wounded, but smiling, and said, "Gah, why you gotta always stick up for yourself?!"

Even though we were just playing around, it suddenly hit me what a wonderful thing it was Will had said to me. The reason I appreciate Will so much is because he LIKES my spunk and attitude. Once, after we'd been dating a few months, but before we were married, Will said the thing he likes most about me is that I call him out on his bullshit.

"So many women just go along with whatever their boyfriend wants, but you're not like that. You like to argue and get your point across."

Recently I attended my friend Leslie's funeral. She had died unexpectedly and way too young. In the eulogy, her sister-in-law said that everyone loved how easy-going Leslie was. Hating conflict, she'd "go along to get along."

I, too, admired Leslie's easy-going temperament, but it also kinda bugged me. I worked with Leslie for eighteen years, and during that time I often witnessed people over-powering her. Patrons talking to her abusively. Show-offy co-workers getting praised for their ideas while Leslie's quiet, subtle creativity would often get overlooked. But Leslie never complained. Never acted like living in the shadow of others bothered her in the least. Going along to get along.

I now realize the reason Leslie's easy-goingness bugged me is because she reminds me of my mom. Dad bullied Mom badly during their twenty-two year relationship. I'd watch them and think, "Come on, Mom! Stand up for yourself! Call Dad out on his bullshit!" But she never did. When Dad would start to yell, Mom would turn and walk down the hall, shutting herself up inside her bedroom until he simmered down.

That's just Mom's style. She despises conflict. Even when Dad would yell at me, she would never fight him. The louder he got, the quieter she got. When I was a kid, it bugged me that she wouldn't defend me against Dad's verbal assaults. But I understand now, as an adult with a wider perspective of the world, that not-yelling was Mom's way of letting her voice be heard. If she had yelled at my dad to stop yelling at me, then we'd all become deaf to each other's words.

Still, though, it often felt like Mom's avoidance of conflict was an avoidance of concern for my welfare. By the time I was an angsty teenager, I began raising my voice. Fighting--no, yelling--no, screaming back at Dad when I felt under attack.

The only thing that improved my relationship with my dad was moving out of the house and away from his authoritarian nature. Freeing myself. Thinking for myself. Sticking up for myself. But our relationship is still shit. We only see each other a few times a year on holidays, and even then our conversations are superficial and awkward. With my mom, on the other hand, I feel as though I could tell her anything. We don't live in the same city, so we see each other less frequently than I would like, but we chat online every day. We have a special bond that can't be severed. No matter how much she bugs me (and I'm sure I bug her, although she's too agreeable to say so).

Once though, I remember driving in the car with Mom and Will, and we were trying to decide where to go for dinner. I'd make a suggestion and Mom would say, "Sure." Will'd make a suggestion and Mom would say, "Sure." Mom was our guest, so we kept trying to get her to say where she wanted to go. "Mom! It's your turn to pick. Where do you want to go?"

"I'm just along for the ride," Mom said.

Oh, how irritating those words are to a hot-head like me. Reminds me of that other non-confrontational dude who preached peace and love and all that harmonious shit. Loving your enemies and praying for those who persecute you. That turn-the-other-cheek dude.

They crucified him, you know.

But some believe he had the last laugh. Up there in heaven, looking down at us mere mortals and our silly, stubborn species. Always fighting with each other. Always shouting. Never listening.

No matter how much I prayed, I felt persecuted living under my dad's roof. Sometimes, Jesus, you gotta turn the other cheek as you turn and walk away and find a studio apartment of your own to grow up a bit, like I did when I was 18. Or like Mom finally did, when she walked out on Dad after twenty-two years of trying to ignore his bullshit. She moved on with her life, in her quiet, easy-going way. People often think divorce is a terrible thing for kids to experience, but for me it was good to see Mom finally stick up for herself.