Wednesday, November 07, 2007

not writing

It has been over two months since I’ve sat down at my computer with the intention of writing. Two months since I‘ve tried to put words to that which most often goes unspoken in my life. Two months since I have last invited my creativity to come out and play, to reboot from its idle status, to come up for air and fill its lungs with life-giving oxygen. The keyboard feels foreign under my awkward fingertips. Two months is a long time.

I’ve forgotten how to balance my laptop on one knee from my perch on the couch in the living room. I’ve forgotten how it was that I used to look at the world when I was writing regularly. I’ve forgotten that it is necessary to barricade the cat in another room when planning a creative endeavor. Will it all come back to me? Will it have the opportunity?

More importantly, will I allow it?

The excuses for not writing are numerous. I have young children. I have a career. I have a hang nail. I need to get through my email. I need to deal with the kitchen. I need to eat my way through the kitchen. I need to pick up the slack that my husband used to pick up in his pre-graduate school days. I need to slack off after too much picking up the slack. They all hit the floor with a hollow “ping,” bouncing and scattering into dusty, dark corners, unable to be retrieved. As with most excuses, they don’t have much weight to them.

The truth is, I could find the time to write if I really wanted to. I would make the time to write if I really wanted to. And I would really want to, if I weren’t so damn scared by the whole thing.

I’m beyond caring what other people think of my writing. That boogey man doesn’t scare me anymore—I’ve written enough and grown enough and read enough in the last few years of writing to know that I do alright, and I’ll find an audience as long as there are other women out there who struggle with mommy guilt and spiritual angst and an addiction to chocolate chip cookies. I’m not afraid to put it out there.

I’m afraid, I believe, to look at what’s in there. That’s why I’m writing tonight about not writing—because it’s safer than writing about the fact that I lost ten pounds and gained it all right back within a month because my appetite is insatiable for all things sweet and high in carbohydrates. It is safer than writing about learning to unentangle myself emotionally from my daughter so as to avoid being the primary topic of therapy in her twenties. And it is safer than writing about the low-lying gray cloud that settled in over our house about a month before my husband started graduate school and hasn’t budged an inch in almost a full year.

When I sit down to write, I typically open up the junk drawer that is my life and rustle around inside until I determine which item to pull out and put away. Usually it’s a little angst-gadget here, a little ball of neuroticism there, and a humor-ma-bobbie or two thrown in for good measure. But not lately. Lately, my life feels less like a junk drawer and more like the proverbial monsters-lurking-within closet. Vices and habits and hang-ups and heart-breaks loom larger-than-life, and, to be frank, I don’t want to open the door.

Of course, opening the door is what I need to do. Of course. I am a counselor. I know this. I tell lots of other people, in my smug, confident, counselor-voice, “My dear, you need to open that door.” They nod, “Yes, Lorie. I need to open that door. I will open that door.” And miraculously, some of them even go off and do it. Truly. And I am forever in awe.

I have opened doors. I have closed doors. I have purged closets and junk drawers alike, and have worked to have a place for everything and everything in its place. But sometimes I get tired, just as I do within my home, of continually re-straightening that with which I thought I was already done. And so I avoid closets like the plague, and refuse to sit down at my computer, turning instead to inane tasks or pleasurable reads, trying to take my mind off that which my mind will not be taken off of.

Tonight, if only for a moment, the running stops. I have closed the bedroom door behind me, and for the next two hours, it’s just me and whatever is lurking behind that door. And after I’ve wrestled a while, if I have any bravery and energy left, I’ll write about it.

In about two more months…

Sunday, August 26, 2007

significantly confused

I didn’t know whether to stand up or not.

I sat there for a moment, listening to the pastor’s call for prayer, feeling the tears threaten but not fully understanding why. “I’m not really a stay-at-home mom,” I thought. “I work part time. The call is for stay-at-home mothers.” The tension within me grew as he continued, speaking the truth that I knew so many of my friends needed to hear—that staying home and wiping noses and packing lunches and practicing math facts is significant. That there is worth in the thousands of little sacrifices they were making every single day. That the job they were doing has infinite value. It was a tender, much-needed call for prayer—I just didn’t know if it was for me.

It was a tension I was very familiar with, having dealt with it from the time my first child was six weeks old and I returned to my part time counseling practice. I had the “best of both worlds,” my friends would say. I had three days per week home with my children, but I had two or three days each week of meaningful and significant work (translated as ADULT CONVERSATION) to “get me through.” And though it was not my choice—we needed my income to make ends meet no matter how modestly we tried to live—it did indeed seem to be ideal. The problem was I was both a stay-at-home mom and a working mother, and I didn’t fully fit in either opposing camp.

Nor did I feel I was able to do either one adequately because of the other. What others considered the “best of both worlds” was a constant struggle of having a little bit of both but not fully enough of either. Paying bills and doing laundry and playing “Super Cat” takes time—when your week is short two or three days, time is of a premium. Something has to go. Utility companies tend to want to get paid. Super Cat suffers. Guilt ensues.

Women around me were beginning to stand. I hesitated. “What if someone thinks I’m not really a stay-at-home mom because I work here at the church?” I realized, albeit much later, how ridiculous this was—as if working two or three days a week disqualified me from needing prayer for the other three days. “What if someone thinks I shouldn’t be standing?” I stood up.

Friends tell me sometimes they wish they were working, too, so that they felt they were doing something more significant. Friends who are working tell me they wish their job were more like mine, so that they felt they were doing something more significant. And the truth be told, I love my job for that very reason. What I do matters. Not everyone can say that. But there is a trap hidden within that significance, and as I was being prayed for that morning, God began to reveal it.

The tears that merely threatened earlier began to flow of their own accord. I had been convicted—of believing that what I do outside of the home is more significant than what I do within. Of wishing away my time while at one in a longing to be at the other. Of not always giving the best of myself to my children. I, too, had fallen into the trap. I, too, believed somewhere in my mind that motherhood was somehow a lesser calling. I, too, needed prayer.

I prayed that morning, as I stood in my rightful place accepting the blessing I so desperately needed, that the Lord would help me to truly see—packing lunches is significant. Answering my son’s fifty questions when I’m walking and would rather listen to my worship music is significant. Paying the bills is significant. Making jewelry with my daughter is significant. Reading an extra chapter before bedtime when I’d rather get started on my own book is significant. Play dough is significant. Sidewalk chalk is significant. Super Cat is significant.

I am a part-time stay-at-home mom, and that is significant.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

first day of school

here ya go, mom!
not doing much writing, but taking a lot of pictures...

doesn't she look older? oh my gosh...

last day of summer...

at the beach with the kaufman cousins--was sunny when we got there. within an hour it was as dark as night and STORMING! so much for the beach!


had to add this one of my nephew... just about sums him up!

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

hangin' around with buster brown

i promised my daughter some pictures of what we've been up to
while she's been visiting grandma. here they are!
miss ya, bub! hope you're having a great time!
love, momma

just being artsy

i was lying on my back in the "ambulance" and this caught my eye--
i like the way it turned out. i hope it translates onto other screens as well.

the spirit of life

this was created by a holocaust survivor and sits downtown
by the river. check it out--it's beautiful.

a love of color

I've been saying for years I wanted to get some pictures of this thing
with the sun shining on it. Yesterday was the day!

Monday, July 30, 2007

doubtful anticipation (a mis-lined pantoum)

Cool breeze blows white cotton across blue expanse—
shushing through the tall hickory trees,
causing the sun to dance in the shadows
as I listen to the twittering of birds and the chirruping of crickets.

Will you truly meet me here?
Shushing through the tall hickory trees,
sweeping down to touch me
as I listen to the whirring of cicadas and the roar of the lawn mower?

Here, in the midst of your green glory—
will you truly meet me here?
Here and now, when I so desperately need you
sweeping down to touch me?

What is expectation without hope?
Here, in the midst of your green glory
I question why I have one but not the other,
here and now, when I so desperately need you.

My heart knows the truth: only you can save me.
Cool breeze blows white cotton across blue expanse—
I pray that you will show up,
causing the sun to dance in the shadows.

and a few haiku

freely and lightly
in unforced rhythms of grace
I will learn to walk

(Mt 11:28-30, MSG)

oh to grasp how wide
and long and high and deep—this
extravagant love

(Eph 3, MSG)

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

and now, for a message from our sponsors...

Having grown up in the golden era of network television, my generation has collective memories centered around three to five primary channels of broadcast programming. We can sing to you what a conjunction is, tell you how to get to Sesame Street, whisper in your ear who shot JR, tell you the blues of a bill on Capitol Hill, and recite the ingredients of the Big Mac in rapid succession. While there were many programs that continue to be sentimental touchstones to my childhood, it is the commercials that come back the quickest, and at the oddest moments.

I must admit I have a warped nostalgia for the commercials of my youth. I can sing, in one breath, the entire Oreo cookie song, and do so pretty much every time I see one. My daughter asked me one day how I did something, and I told her it was an "ancient Chinese secret." She looked at me like I was speaking Chinese. And to this day, I cannot watch a sunset without hearing in my memory, "going, going, gone..." "Do it again, Daddy!" At a time when I was naive to the evils of advertising, commercials were fun ("No, silly, I'm talking to the toilet paper") and lighthearted, and I was easily and eagerly impressionable.

I don't feel that way any longer, now that a commercial has ruined my life.

Many of you are aware that, despite my childhood nostalgia, I do not watch much television at this point in my life. I wish I had not been watching this particular night, as well, as the images and ideas refuse to leave my mind and probably never will. This is why I don't watch television, I have reminded myself. But the damage has already been done.

For the life of me, I don't remember where I was when this occurred, nor do I remember what I was watching at the time. Someone was trying to get me to buy something, and then suddenly there was a woman in front of a mirror, gazing intently at her face. The woman raised one finger to each temple, and then very gently lifted up her cheeks. And then another woman. And then another. I cocked my head to one side. Another woman. My eyebrow went up. Another woman. I began to think about how I was going to get nonchalantly to the bathroom. Ten or fifteen women, all told, all around my age, examined themselves in the mirror in that 60-second, million-dollar spot. And then one more got up and excused herself to the bathroom.

Eyebrow still raised, lips pursed, I stood in front of the mirror, knowing I should just turn around and walk away. But like a dieter drawn to the buffet, I could not help myself. One arm lifted, then the other. I placed my fingers to my temples. I looked deep into my eyes. I lifted.

I gasped.

Today I turn 37. They tell me I will be at peace one day with the wrinkles across my forehead, the jowls around my mouth, the salt beginning to mix with my pepper--but not today. Today I am 37 in a world of 27 year olds, and I wish I'd started using the Mary Kay a whole HECK of a lot sooner.

And I wish to God I'd NEVER seen that commercial...

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

when God speaks to me, he uses music...

(like freedom in spring)

She's alone tonight with a bitter cup and
She's undone tonight, she's all used up
She's been staring down the demons who've been
screaming she's just another so and so
another so and so

You are golden, you are golden child
You are golden, don't let go
don't let go tonight

There's a fear that burns like trash inside
And your shame the curse that burns your eyes
You've been hiding in the bedroom hoping this isn't
how the story has to go
It's not the way it goes,
it's your book now

You are golden, you are golden child
You are golden, don't let go
don't let go tonight

You're a lonely soul in a land of broken hearts
Your far from home
is a perfect place to start

So this final verse is a contradiction and the more we learn,
the less we know
We've been talking about a feeling, we both know inside
but couldn't find the words
I couldn't write this verse. I've seldom been so sure
about anything before

You're golden, you are golden child
You are golden, don't let go
don't let go tonight

You are...
(This world is a dead man down
Every breath is a fading crown we wear like some
debilitated king...
The earth spins and the moon goes round
The green comes from the frozen ground and
everything will be made new again
like freedom in spring)
(like freedom in spring)
(like freedom in spring)

Music and Lyrics by Switchfoot

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

quiet time

It begins with the creaking click of the knob turning, slowly catching the internal mechanism, and then releasing with a soft, metallic echo. The door swings open, and a muffled thump-thump-thump approaches my bedside. A small, impish figure, armed with three stuffed animals and a rather large blanket, hoists itself up beside me and begins to ruin my quiet, restful morning.

“Momma, are you ready to get up now?” the treble voice asks. I look at the clock. 6:30 AM. No. I am not ready to get up yet. Not by a long shot. “Momma…” I roll over toward the voice, which comes out of a deceptively angelic-looking face, framed with soft, sun-kissed curls glowing like a golden halo. In my stupor, I am taken in. The tender moment, however, is fleeting. “Buddy,” I croak in my “it’s dark-thirty AM” voice, “Momma is still sleeping. You need to go back to bed.” “I want to be with you, Momma,” he insists, throwing his legs over mine and grabbing my arm to position around him under his neck.

As I know it is a lose-lose scenario, I choose, this time, to give him a chance. “Buddy, you MUST lay still and you MUST be quiet,” I warn him in the sternest voice I can muster at this hour. It is yet another exercise in futility. Legs on top of mine, legs underneath mine. The arm is in the right spot, the arm is in the wrong spot. “Momma,” he urges, “roll over this way.” Groaning, I roll the opposite direction, to no avail. Tiny legs fling themselves across my torso, shifting roughly every three seconds. Ire is building within my not-a-morning-person spirit. I breathe deeply and hope that ignoring him will deter him.

I hope in vain. “Momma, are you ready to get up now?” he asks again. “I’m ready to eat now. Momma… is sissy up yet? Momma… did Daddy go to work already? Momma… will you play with me? Momma…” In miraculous self-restraint, I calmly roll over and insist that he return to his bedroom. After a moment of protests, he retreats in a fit of whining, slamming both my door and his own along the way, which requires me to get out of bed to address. Finally, I am alone in my bed (oh, sweet mercy) and, smugly congratulating myself for not killing my son, begin to drift back to sleep.

BAM!!! BOOM!!! I awaken and push my door shut, turning the fan up to deal with both the rising heat and the rising noise. CRASH!!! Thump-thump-thump-thump-thump. I roll over, glancing again at the clock. Another hour of “sleep” has passed. SPILLLLLLL!!! Yammeryammeryammer. “Buddy, you’re too loud,” I warn. He quiets momentarily. Then comes the tape player blaring math facts to poorly written imitation-80’s rock music. BEAT-BEAT-BEAT-BEAT. The clock reads 7:50. I groan and finally, wearily, drag myself from bed.

He appears the minute my door opens. “Momma, are you getting up now? I’m ready to eat, Momma. Can we eat now?” I stumble to the bathroom. “Yes, Buddy, we can eat in a minute.” “I want Cheerios, Momma. With honey. Can I have honey?” “We’ll see, Buddy,” I mutter, making my way in to wake up my 8-year-old sleep-loving likeness. “Time to get up now, Sissy!!!!” He diverts his attention to her for a moment, and I begin to dress in my slow, I’m-not-awake-yet pace. BOUNCE!!! “Momma, can we eat NOW?!?!”

Making my way downstairs, he curls around my feet like the cat. “Can I have Cheerios? I want Cheerios. With honey. Can I have honey, Momma?” “Buddy, I got it, okay?” “Okay, Momma,” he chirps, off to clatter with his trains. I enter the kitchen, the cat now curling around my feet, yowling to be paid attention to. My daughter thumps down the stairs and the bickering begins. “That was my train, Sissy! I had it first!” I attempt to ignore it and begin preparing breakfast. Dishes clank against one another, tones harsh and startling to my ears. My irritation grows despite my best efforts.

"Come on guys, it’s ready.” Spoons clinking, Cheerios crunching, children chattering. I place my ingredients in the blender and brace myself. WHIRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRR!!! “Momma, are you making a smoothie?” “What do you think, Buddy?” “Can I have some smoothie? I want some smoothie!” I pour my breakfast—MY breakfast—and come to the table.

I pull my devotional reading out, shuffling through the pages to today’s date. I begin to read, hungry for a nourishing moment. “What are we going to do today, Momma? Are we going to aerobics today? What are we doing after aerobics? Are we going to a friend’s house today? I want to play with a friend today, Momma. Can I have my gummy vitamins, Momma? I haven’t had my vitamins yet…” It takes me ten minutes to read the three short paragraphs. The moment I shut the book and lay it down, it has already left me. “Momma, I want some more…”

Some more. Yes. I want some more, too. More sleep. More peace. More “Mommy-Time.” More quiet. I know it is a season, one like many others I will encounter. But it is a particularly noisy, relentless season, and I am one who is sensitive to the noise and the pressure. “They tell me there will come a time when it seems too quiet,” I say to my husband one night, as they are bickering in the stroller. “I can’t imagine...” “Don’t say that,” he gently admonishes me. “You know it will be here all too soon.”

Yes, I know this. I remind myself of it daily, trying to be comfortable with the tension between cherishing the now and anticipating the not-yet. There will come a day I will long for that little voice to wake me up and fill my day, but, at the moment, the day is filled to overflowing. I pray for moments of quiet, moments of inner peace, moments of grace. One comes, as the children exit the kitchen and flow out into the backyard. Moving into the living room, I pick my devotional up again, and soak up as much as those three minutes will allow. “Momma,” I hear all too soon. “Momma, I need you..."

This time, I am ready to rise. I close my eyes for a moment, lifting up a prayer for our day, for my children, for my heart. Then I get up, placing the book back on the kitchen table, and I follow the noise to its source. With a newfound calmness, I respond.

“Whatcha need, Buddy? I’m ready now…”

Monday, June 25, 2007

just five or six more...

The scale read 140.0 two weeks ago. Tonight it reads 148.0. I stare at the glowing number in despair, my heart sinking, though not with surprise. How could I possibly be surprised, when I knowingly binged all afternoon?

Today was the low point of a slowly-gaining-momentum roller coaster ride—emotions out of whack and appetite out of check and my weight as up and down as the track. I can hear the clack-clack-clack-clack of the cable as I begin another ascent—up to the height of my irrational fear—and for a moment I perch motionless at the top before careening down a slippery slope of trying to control my never-satiated need for more. I clutch the crash bar for dear life, knuckles white, cursing myself for getting on this ride, knowing full well I never could handle roller coasters.

When did I first find myself back in this car, belted and barred and unable to place my hands and feet on solid ground until the ride has come to a complete stop? Until recently, life had become a fairly mellow ride—more like the Matterhorn—round and round and round with its predictable ups and downs. Things were steady—eating healthy, exercising regularly—and then a small dip—a weekend barbeque or a wedding reception—then back to steady, steady, steady, dip, steady, steady, steady, dip. It felt reasonable. It felt healthy. It felt (dare I say?) normal.

It doesn’t feel that way any more. For whatever reason—my monthly cycle, side effects of a newly-tried-then-newly-discarded medication, depression, spiritual attack—nothing is steady now. Not today. Not this weekend. Not this week. Not ever again.

I am, of course, becoming dramatic. This is because drama is what I do. It is much more compelling to write that nothing will ever be okay again than it is to write that in another two weeks I will be back on track and the scale will read 140.0 again. And, truthfully, it FEELS like it will never be okay again. It FEELS like I am 240 lbs and doomed to stay there, or, worse, increase. It FEELS like I have changed nothing and made no gains against my formidable appetite. It FEELS like I am still the sad, pathetic, lacking-in-willpower creature that I FEEL I have always been. I have lost. The battle is over. The white flag is up. I surrender.

(Pause for dramatic effect) Sigh…

(In a hushed, subdued tone) I surrender. I am desperately, hopelessly hungry, and there is nothing—NOTHING—that satisfies. Not Oreos or beef brats or corn on the cob or sweet potato chips with dip. Not pizza or strawberry pie or nachos or cranberry oatmeal cookies. I eat one, I want another. I eat another, I want five or six more. My stomach says, “enough.” My waistband says, “enough.” My spirit says, “enough.” My insatiable appetite says, “more, more, MORE!!!”

I am not satisfied. It is not my stomach that growls, empty and discontent, but my heart. I am hungry for more than my pantry can ever hold. I surrender—not to my appetite, but to He whom I am hungry for.

Delight my soul in the richest of your fare, Lord (Isa 55:2). I beg of you—meet me here, at last.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

more than a conqueror (a pantoum)

The white flag is raised—
tattered and torn, it whips back and forth in the wind.
I surrender…
there is no fight left in me.

My spirit is limp—
tattered and torn, it whips back and forth in the wind.
Weariness like a mountain weighs upon my shoulders.
There is no fight left in me.

I am overcome with despair.
My spirit is limp—
where is my hero now?
Weariness like a mountain weighs upon my shoulders.

“All-consuming-yet-never-satisfied-wants[1]” declare victory…
I am overcome with despair.
A conquering power brings the enemy to its knees[2]
where is my hero now?

Two sets of hands reach for me—only one may claim me.
“All-consuming-yet-never-satisfied-wants” declare victory…
but faith will overcome.
A conquering power brings the enemy to its knees.

There is another who fights for me—
I surrender
to the one whose blood was shed in victory.
The white flag is raised.

[1] Galatians 5:19-21, MSG
[2] 1 John 5:4, MSG

Thursday, May 31, 2007

the first tastes of summer

Ahh... summer. Popsicles, watermelon, and corn on the cob. With any luck, they'll be room for some writing on my "plate," as well! One can always hope!

Sunday, April 15, 2007

reva's daughter

The line, though well-rehearsed, never felt quite natural to me, no matter how many times I recited it over the course of the past week. Perhaps because it is a line I’ve not used much in recent years, perhaps because other lines have taken its place with the passage of time—for whatever the reason, though it always rolled easily off my tongue, it always sounded unfamiliar to my ear, as if I were introducing myself by another person’s name or speaking about myself in past tense. “Hi, I’m Lorie,” I would begin, smiling, my hand outstretched. “I’m Reva’s daughter.”

The response became downright comical after a while. “I knew you was Reva’s daughter,” each relative would reply, smiling back at me. “You look just like her.” “Yeah, I get that a lot,” I would chuckle in return. And I do—which is the funny part. Were we talking about my aunt and her daughter, this would not be nearly as amusing, because my cousin is the spitting image of her mother. But my mother and I—well, suffice it to say that even though she has gotten stopped more than once at the grocery store or the mall with, “You must be Lorie Kaufman’s mom—you look just like her,” we don’t really think we look much alike at all. But I played out my role, smiling, and nodding, all the while wondering what they saw that I did not.

And so it was that I found myself in this odd, bemused place—adult child of my mother, half in the present, half in the past—contemplating what it means to be Reva’s daughter, Jennie’s granddaughter, my husband’s wife, my daughter’s mother. Contemplating what it means to be so linked with another that this link becomes part of my identity. Contemplating what it means to bear the image or imprint of another. I’m not sure I’ve come to any conclusions, save this one:

As much as society tries to convince me that I am an “Army of One,” I cannot escape the fact that my smile is my mother’s, my eyes are my father’s, my outgoing nature is my granddad’s, and my I’m-gettin’-tired Kentucky drawl is my gram’s. The people I come from, the people I’ve united with, and the little people I’ve produced all contribute to the person I was, the person I am, and the person I am to become.

Though the only place I’m now known as Reva’s daughter is in the company of family, I do not cease to be that person once I return home, any more than I cease to be my daughter’s mother when I go to work or my husband’s wife when I leave for a weekend with the girls. And while we may not think we look much alike, I bear my mother’s image nonetheless, just as I do that of my father, and his mother, and so on. Mom’s interest in genealogy is not lost on me—we do not stand alone in a single point in time. I am not separate. I am a part of something beyond myself. I am a Rees. I am a Kaufman. I am an Endicott. I am a Hottle. I am a Baisden.

I am Reva’s daughter.

Friday, April 06, 2007

here she comes...

In memory of my Grandmother
Jennie Baisden Endicott
(The chapel at Community Hospice, Ashland, KY)

I am standing upon the seashore. A ship at my side spreads her white sails to the morning breeze and starts for the blue ocean. She is an object of beauty and strength. I stand and watch her until at length she hangs like a speck of white cloud just where the sea and sky come to mingle with each other.

Then someone at my side says: "There, she is gone!"

"Gone where?"

Gone from my sight. That is all. She is just as large in mast and hull and spar as she was when she left my side and she is just as able to bear her load of living freight to their destined port.

Her diminished size is in me, not in her. And just at the moment when someone at my side says: "There, she is gone!" there are other eyes watching her coming, and other voices ready to take up the glad shout: "Here she comes!"

And that is dying.


Sunday, April 01, 2007

I have to admit, I was apprehensive. Six hours of partying with four eight-year-olds was ambitious, at best. Completely insane, at worst. Introducing my agenda to the mix? I wasn't sure what to expect.

Having done childcare for several years before getting a "real job" (meaning one in which I really worked, rather than played out side all day) and eventually going back to school, I knew enough to keep the agenda flexible and make sure I had several back-ups. Six hours is a long time to keep bored children entertained (meaning preventing them from tearing up the house). Should the main event not go over well, I had several back ups to turn to in a pinch before heading to dinner.

Truth be told, the real anxiety was over the main event, not the down time. I had suggested to my daughter that we could do a "spa party" and she was initially very enthusiastic about the idea. Facials, cucumbers, foot massages, manicures, make-overs--the works--and then dinner out to show it off. As the time got closer, however, I heard less and less about it. And as I began to really take a look at these young ladies at school and at church, I began to worry that they may not sustain interest either.

Between attending a church that describes itself as "casual" and a school that mandates uniforms, my daughter and her friends don't have much reason or occassion to really dress up. As a result, my daughter has largely grown, how shall I put it, well, CASUAL. The days of playing dress up have become fewer and farther between, and getting her to wear a skirt to church (as opposed to shorts--in MARCH) has become a hill I have decided I am not willing to die on. Factor in the dirt smudges on her cheeks and the stringy, I've-been-playing-hard hair, and the picture is not one of girliness.

So, would these girls get into a girlie party? Would their interest be sustained through soaking feet and painting nails and making jewelry and curling hair? Would there be an "after" picture with which to compare the "before?" And what would I do with them FOR SIX HOURS if there wasn't?

As usual, I fretted in vain. From the moment we slipped on the headbands, the girls were enthralled. Somewhere within each of these girls their innate desire to feel beautiful kicked in and they were completely willing to be pampered from beginning to end--and thrilled with the results. Goop on their faces, slime on their feet, and sticky stuff in their hair aside...

There are many things I pray for my daughter. While not among the most imperative, the hope that she looks in the mirror each day and smiles at what she sees is one that I will continue to lift up on her behalf. Is feeling pretty the most important thing in her world? No. Not by a long shot. But the gift of feeling good about who she is, BOTH inside and out, is one that will serve her well, and I will go to great lengths in my attempt to give it to her.

Even pampering four eight-year-old girls.


Here's how they turned out:

Friday, March 30, 2007


The "after" picture from her Spa Party today.

Been too busy raising my kids to write about it...
...I keep telling myself that's the way it should be...
but I miss it! Hopefully more soon!

Sunday, March 18, 2007

against the wind

The March wind blows through my still-damp hair, impeding my vision and tangling the curl beyond any possible repair. Impulsively I raise my hands to my face in yet another futile attempt to keep its tickling tendrils away from my mouth and nose, out of my irritated eyes, wishing I’d remembered something with which to tame its enthusiasm. I catch a glimpse of myself in a passing window pane—myself and my taken-on-a-life-of-its-own head of hair, dancing its own wild dance of joy while I swat and swing and shove it away in fit of frustration.

My hair has gotten out of control.

The March wind blows through my well-ordered days, scattering my schedule like scraps of paper, carrying away my best-laid plans in its cold, ghastly gusts. Impulsively I reach to grab it all, to pull every moment tight to my chest in yet another futile attempt to keep the ticking of time away from the sacred sanctuary I long to create within this spiraling space that is our family. I regard my face in the mirror—I am losing the battle against Time, wearing my weariness across my forehead, under my eyes, around my mouth, while he laughs raucously at my frantic flailing in his general direction.

My life has gotten out of control.

I regard them both, my curls and my calendar, attempting to determine what more may be cut away—an inch or two here, an activity or so there—but I am unable to discern what will best flatter my face or fit my family. I have been here before—I have trimmed away and I have let grow, sometimes even drastically, and yet here I am again with my clarity obscured by my bangs hanging in my eyes. Would that I could restrain time in the same manner I subdue my hair, placing it under my control with a simple twist of the wrist. To be able to braid together my work, my family, my talents and interests, and to not have them come immediately unraveled with the first innocent, carefree toss of my head. I do not desire to cut—I desire to tame. I don’t know if that is possible. I will find out in time.

The March wind blows through my spirit, ushering in a new season in its typical blustery way. Impulsively I brace myself for its changes with my usual mix of anxiety and anticipation—reminding myself that just as the blue skies eventually follow these months of gray, clarity usually comes after these times of confusion. As for today, it is finally sunny and blue, and so, pulling back my hair, I bundle up against its blasts and abandon my agenda to rustle around in the bottom of the coat closest in search of the kite.

When the wind is out of control, it’s time to let something fly.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

the only constant is...

“My husband said I needed to hear the sermon this morning,” she tells me, explaining as she approaches why she is here, alone, at the 9:15 service. “It’s about change.” I cannot help but laugh, although it is not even remotely funny.

“Great,” I reply, half-hearted even in my sarcasm.

“Yeah,” she chuckles, “I think you’ll need it, too.”

She is right, of course, though not necessarily due to any great revelatory insight on her part (not that she’s not capable of such, mind you)—it is a widely known fact, among those with whom I am known, that I do not deal well with change. At all. Like my front-wheel-drive micro-van trying to get up my unplowed and thrice-frozen-over street, I do best when I keep in my deep little ruts. No one gets stuck, no one gets side-swiped, everyone is happy. It works for me. Until someone goes and plows the street.

Like, say, my friend.

Over six years ago we moved to this town, leaving behind on one hand my very dear parents but on the other a group of very hurtful and difficult friendships I was eager to be free of. God’s provision began with a small group of young moms who met twice a month at the church I’d begun attending with my husband, and it continued from there. That group was a life-saver for me in more ways than one, and out of that group grew two of the best friendships I’ve ever had. The friend beside me now is one of them. She will not be beside me for much longer.

Occasionally I’ll hear my mother-in-law refer to women she classifies in the “we were friends when our kids were little” category. I often found myself wondering what happened that those friendships shifted. While I don’t recall ever actually thinking the words, “that will never happen to us,” I know the thought was there, just the same. I would never have that category. It was as simple as that. Nothing would ever change.

But, alas, nothing in life is simple. So, what happened when their kids weren’t little anymore? Families moved, mothers who once stayed home went back to work, lives got crammed full with the kids and their activities—all these friendships that are life-lines for me, are they headed in the same direction? I pull over to let an on-coming vehicle through, swerving and fish-tailing as I go, then struggle to pull back into the middle of the road where the traversing is easier. How long will these ruts remain?

Nostalgia, our pastor reminds us, is an attempt to retrieve the irretrievable. I know this far too well as I am, by nature, one who is constantly looking longingly back over my shoulder. It is our attempt, he asserts, to deal with change apart from God. “The only way to know God as your security is to give up and surrender to his sovereignty.” Living this way, I suspect, is a little more like having four-wheel-drive—less ruts, more freedom of movement. The ability to maneuver through obstacles with power and agility. The ability to navigate life without my foot on the break in fear. The ability to embrace the open road, wherever it may lead.

The only constant is change. My friend understands this, and points me to the God who is both “the rocks and the rapids.” I cannot pick and choose where I will trust him and where I will not—it is an all-or-nothing proposition. Once again, he is doing a new thing. Once again, I must learn to trust him.

Once again, I must say good-bye.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

an "ill-conceived" sentiment

For the past few wintery evenings, I have turned on the bed early and cozied up to a delightful book by Rachel Simon entitled Riding the Bus With My Sister. Ms. Simon, whose younger-by-eleven-months sister Beth is mildly mentally retarded, takes the reader on an enjoyable journey through both her childhood and her mid-life “coming of age,” both set around her relationship with her sister, whose sole focus in life is riding the public buses from morning until night around her Pennsylvania city. The year that Rachel commits to riding the buses with Beth is nothing short of life-changing—challenging, among other things, Rachel’s self-protective busyness and her concepts of mental retardation and self-determination. Other than a few conversations that felt overly-philosophical and forced, it was beautifully written and well worth reading.

That being said, I had one jaw-dropping, “I can’t believe she said that!” moment about half way through the book that greatly disturbed me. Rachel recounts reaching a point, once Beth is living on her own and becomes “involved” with someone, when her family must make a determination about birth control. After much deliberation, it is agreed that she would never remember to take the pill, couldn’t be trusted to use a diaphragm, couldn’t manage a condom, and would never agree to an IUD. It is at this point that Rachel remarks, as they are feeling the urgency of the situation, that “…the thought of Beth undergoing an abortion seems unbearable—not that she would anyway, as she is the one family member who objects to abortions.”

This is not the comment, just to be clear, that made me gasp. The fact that Ms. Simon does not object to abortions, while it says something to me about her politics and sense of morality, does not, unfortunately, shock me. It is entirely all too common in our “my rights and my needs above anyone else’s” and “there is no right or wrong, just what’s right for ME” culture. What caused me to wake my husband up came two pages later.

After determining as a family that a tubal ligation is the best option for Beth, Rachel accompanies her to the procedure. It appears she is not prepared for her own emotional response afterward. She writes:

Then, after I pull away, waving with a big, sunny smile, when I am too far down
the road to glimpse them in my rearview, I weep. It is a terrible act to
eliminate the possibility of children, to terminate a long march of futures.

This is the same woman who does not oppose the elimination and termination of a fetus? What am I missing here?

Now, I will grant you that some people may argue that what Rachel is really grieving here is the loss of Beth’s choice. Both abortion and conception are, after all, about “a choice, not a child,” correct? Given the articulate nature of the rest of her writing, however, I am not willing to entertain this argument. Her writing is very blunt and intentional. Had she meant that, I’m confident she would have written it as such.

I believe that what Rachel mourned in her rearview mirror was the loss of life in her sister’s womb. The problem with this is that Beth’s womb did not yet contain life—it merely contained the promise of life. I cannot, therefore, reconcile how she could mourn the loss of the promise or hope of life—the “possibility,” as she put it—yet could be perfectly okay with the actual loss of life within her sister’s womb. The contradiction was apparently not as blatant to Ms. Simon.

It is this type of ill-conceived sentiment that convinces me that many in our nation still have a conscience, but refuse to heed it. We know, in those moments of feeling, that there is something lost—that there is something amiss. We feel it in our gut, it washes down our cheeks, it bunches up in our throats, causing us to be unable to swallow. But so many are unable to untangle the web of feminist politics to see that what is amiss ARE the feminist politics, and therefore go on buying the rhetoric that you can have it all—sex without strings attached, choice without consequence, possibility without the true promise of life.

I, too, grieve for Beth, and for other women who have lost the choice to have children. But I grieve even more for the women who elevate the loss of choice over the loss of a child.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

how i spent my weekend

A good time was had by all! (Now, I'm off to BED!)

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

what part of "no" don't i understand?

He stood at the top of the hill, leaning against the guardrail with the nonchalant air of an adolescent, not even glancing my way as he spoke to me. “No, I don’t want to. Not today. Maybe next year.” His tone was clear and even—no trace of the soprano tremolo that usually indicated he was upset or wound up. I tried again.

“Come on, Buddy. Sit right here—try it just once.”

His voice was firm. Matter-of-fact, even. Not a voice I was used to hearing out of this child’s mouth. “No, I don’t want to. I just don’t want to. Maybe next year.” His words didn’t even register. I tried again, my friend joining me this time. “Come on, Buddy—just one time. You’ll like it.”

“No, I just don’t want to.” Were it not for my friend’s daughter inadvertently starting my down the hill alone, I would have probably continued to press the poor child further. It was then, as I sped down the hill at full speed on some orange flyer advertised to break several bones in one fateful trip, that I finally realized the idiocy of what I was doing.

I don’t like sledding.

Neither does my son.

So why was I trying to force us both to fly down this hill?

I teach my children to assert themselves, and then I don’t listen when they do. I tell them to listen to my “No,” then I railroad over theirs. What was I thinking?

I was thinking of my own fear, and of having lived a life paralyzed by it. I was thinking of the things I’d missed as a result, and the regrets that accompany them. I was thinking about my struggles as I’ve lived my life on the sidelines, watching my husband and my daughter soar and fly and climb and run while I stand by, both feet firmly on the ground. I was thinking about ME. Fortunately, my four-year-old was not. Secure enough to speak his mind, he let me know where he stood. He stood at the top of the hill, and he was very happy to keep it that way. When will I learn to listen to my children?

“Maybe next year,” he reminded me when I returned, his sister flying by behind us for the umpteenth time. I took his hand, and we headed for the snowplow pile he’d been eager to climb since we’d arrived. “Whenever you’re ready, Buddy. Whenever you’re ready.”

Maybe next year I’ll be ready, too.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

mirror, mirror, on the wall...

It is the bane of my existence.

Its slim, graceful frame hangs above the sink, halfway imbedded into the wall, sleek and silvery against the muted gray of our bathroom. Having just slammed it shut, its mirrored surface now returns my furrowed brow, my likeness cursing in unison with my own mouth. The irony is that though the image looks like me—my eyes, my hair, my lips—my true reflection is actually found on the other side of the door.

Several times a day—especially lately, given how our lovely Midwestern winters affect the health of our household—I open the glass front, holding my breath, and tentatively reach within. Three shelves in height crammed with six levels of various remedies and elixirs, all precariously perched, disassembles at my slightest touch, sending multiple boxes and bottles and paraphernalia crashing into the porcelain sink below, usually when the children are sleeping. “Are you trying to wake the kids?” my husband calls, as I slam the medicine cabinet shut after three attempts to balance all that I know fit into it because it all came out of it. My usual reply is not fit for print.

Brightly colored band-aids, just out of my daughter’s reach so as to not run out of them in a week’s time. Beige colored band-aids, so that my husband does not have to go to work with Barbie on his boo-boos. Thermometers, tweezers, nail clippers and dental floss. Creams for itching, creams for burning, creams for bumps, and creams for bruises. Pills that make certain things run and pills that make other things stop running. Orange colored bottles, half-full, labeled “BE SURE TO TAKE ALL OF THIS MEDICATION.” Seven different types of pain relief, most of them legal. (That’s a joke.) Boxes of this, bottles of that, tubes of the other—the medicinal menagerie has gotten unmanageable.

It feels all too familiar.

If it’s not the cabinet, it’s the pantry. If it’s not the pantry, it’s the linen closet. If it’s not the linen closet, it’s the basement. Crap is falling on my head all over the place, and that’s just the external problems. If it’s not my marriage, it’s my parenting. If it’s not my parenting, it’s my weight. If it’s not my weight, it’s my relationship with God. Crap is filling my head all over the place, falling out at the wrong times in the wrong places with the wrong people, and I am constantly trying to cram it all back in and make it fit. Too much stuff, not enough space. This is my headache.

All I needed was a flippin’ ibuprofen.

Now, I need a tranquilizer.

one big happy...


Happy Birthday, Baby!

Monday, January 29, 2007

sitting on the couch while the cultural war rages on: why parents do not engage

As the mother of a daughter, there are several choices I’ve had to make that have been less than popular, and, at times, less than comfortable, in regard to how I allow my daughter to interact with our current culture. Such decisions have been made after a great deal of inner debate, and have been guided in part by insight from books I’ve read and discussed with others, such as Home Invasion by Rebecca Hagelin and Your Girl by Vicky Courtney. So when I came across Dean’s post about a hyper-sexualized middle school talent show a few weeks back, I began giving further thought as to why it seems so many other parents DON’T seem to be making similar choices.

Dean quotes from the original New York Times article about the highly provocative nature of the “talent” being displayed, then quotes another blogger who asks, “Why are parents giving up?” Dean responds that the answer is simple. “Many of these parents probably hold secret misgivings about what goes on in these productions, but silence them in an effort not to damage their child's acceptance in the achievement elite.” He concludes his post by saying, "Because those parents who might object to this kind of thing are silent, those who have the greatest tolerance for the sexualization of children continue to push the boundaries of acceptability. Combine this reality with the common belief that sexual mores inevitably become looser as time goes by and the belief that the highest calling one can have on one's life is to be a celebrity (which requires the early sacrifice of modesty) and you end up with talent shows like this one."

While I agree entirely that this is a legitimate factor, I disagree that it is as “simple” as this. I think there are many more reasons why even well-meaning, able-conscienced parents throw up their hands and allow their children to be swallowed whole by the culture. I will take a moment here to offer up just a few.

Rebecca Hagelin states, in the introduction to the afore mentioned book, “…too often, even good moms and dads, when confronted with the struggle—and believe me, it’s a struggle—simply give up. They shrug their shoulders and decide, 'I just don’t have the energy to argue. Everybody’s doing it, so what’s the harm in my child doing it too?' This syndrome has become the mantra of too many parents.” It takes energy to engage in the cultural war against our children and families. Many parents simply lack the energy or the motivation to stand up for what they know internally to be right and appropriate, because they think they are but one facing millions (or even just one other) and they are not up for the argument. They don’t want to be challenged or questioned, they don’t want to be given a hard time, they just want to sit on their couch and be comfortable. If every parent who had a conscience would take the time and energy to stand up for what they believe to be right and appropriate for their children, be it at the school talent show or with the entertainment industry or with their own child, we would see standards change. They would have to.

Furthermore, many parents not only lack energy and motivation, but conviction as well. It bothers them that their twelve year old is gyrating her pelvis on stage (or even just in the living room) with her abdomen exposed and the rest of her body barely covered, but they aren’t really sure why and they’re not bothered enough to really DO something about it. In a culture that lacks a moral compass, lines are not easily drawn. If a parent has not taken the time to draw these lines both for themselves and for their child, they are not equipped to respond to the uneasiness that arises within them in such situations. And they will likely not become passionate about it until the threat of pregnancy or STD is eminent, because those are the only lines they ARE clear about.

But the lines are not drawn come middle school, when the sign-ups begin for the talent show—they begin as early as life begins with the choices surrounding what their children will and will not be exposed to and how they will deal with such exposure. Rebecca Hagelin states, “…media companies who want your child to like their programming at, say, fourteen, start trying to captivate them at age four. The idea is to get the kids and the parents gradually numb to certain ideas that would normally offend their sensibilities—and they start, oh, so subtly and cleverly to do so.” Many parents have become numb to the culture because they are over-saturated by it. About ten years ago my husband and I partook in a little experiment and for all intents and purposes stopped watching TV all together. As the time has gone by, we find ourselves more and more appalled by what is on television, because we have not been regularly and systematically desensitized by the entertainment industry for the last decade. This makes us all the more vigilant about what we allow our children to be exposed to, because we have seen first hand how we can become numb to our consciences.

As previously mentioned, in the interest of time and space, these are but a few of the reasons I believe many parents simply “give up” in the battle against our culture. I believe many (myself included, at times) lack the energy, the motivation, the conviction, and the moral sensitivity necessary to enter into a war that will likely not be won in our lifetime. Combine these factors with a driving desire to be comfortable and not rock the boat, and the pervasive message that parents are no longer the experts when it comes to their own children, and you get entire armies of parents who sit, dazed and useless, on their couches while their children become casualties.

Although the war is daunting, I strongly believe battles can be won for our children in the day to day if we only take the time and the energy to say no to that which makes us uncomfortable. Our conscience is our God-given, internal alarm that tells us that something is not right. As parents we must learn to trust it and follow it, because if we do not exercise our conscience, it will weaken over time, and our children will pay the price.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

ready or not...

“Momma, what’s sex?” My eyebrows shoot up involuntarily as my heart skips a beat. As she is turned away from me in the dark and using her “I’m feeling really self-conscious” voice, I’m not sure I’ve heard her correctly. I silently hope I haven’t.

“What did you say, Bub?”

“What is sex?” She turns toward me and I see her questioning almost-eight-year-old eyes in the half-light of her bedroom. I heard her correctly. I silently hope aliens will abduct one of us, rescuing me from having to answer her earnest yet uncomfortable question. They do not.

I take a deep breath.

Fortunately, I am not completely unprepared for this conversation—the lucky side effect of being a slightly neurotic parent who worries about too much about too many things and has too many books but too little time to read them. My bookshelves and nightstand all contain, smattered among the memoirs and novels and books on writing, titles like How and When to Talk to Your Kids About Sex or How to Talk to Your Child About Sex or Talking to Your Kids About Sex. (Books on the topic are prolific—alas, creative titles are not.) I’ve even read parts of some of them. And underlined in them. I’ve been a good student. I just didn’t think the final exam would come for, oh, about another year. Or two. Or five.

I silently wish I’d studied harder.

This is not our first conversation, which further complicates the situation. She has been asking questions, albeit infrequently, for about six months now, and I have been answering them in honest but veiled answers, explaining that more information will come as she is older. The groundwork has been laid. But she has been less and less pacified by my responses. She is wanting more. But is she ready?

“Where did you hear that word?” I begin with an indirect route, trying to determine how she’s heard the word used and by whom, who is saying what, what does she really know. As the conversation continues, it becomes clear she is getting some very erroneous information from some very confident but VERY misguided second graders. I am going to have to answer her directly. She needs honest, accurate answers. I silently hope for the Second Coming.

I don’t remember learning about sex for the first time, but there is much I do remember. Awkward conversations, questions directed toward friends who were more “experienced” though not necessarily more knowledgeable, avoided conversations, lessons learned about the hard way. Shame, embarrassment, and confusion were the threads that wove together my knowledge of sexuality. They do not pull out easily. It is not what I want for my daughter.

And so, as carefully and simply as I can, I explain “sex” to my precious, precocious almost-eight-year-old.

“That’s weird,” she giggles, wrinkling her nose. I wrinkle mine back. “Yeah, it is kinda weird, isn’t it?” We have a good giggle and then talk for while longer, allowing her to empty her overflowing bucket of questions. I kiss her good night, reminding her that second graders are not the authority on such matters. I leave her, hopefully, with thoughts of sleepovers and birthday parties.

I silently hope I have done the right thing, at the right time, in the right way.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Sunday, January 21, 2007

catching up

The tree is put away, the presents have all found places to live, we have been to Florida and back, and all the suitcases are finally empty. A few more loads of laundry, and life will finally return to "normal." (Or as normal as things can be with a spouse starting graduate school!) Hopefully, this will mean more WRITING.

In the meantime, my college friend Dean, inspired by having his first child, has had some great discussions going about several social issues that affect us as parents. Take a minute to browse through the past few weeks of posts, if you're so inclined. He has some good, intelligent points to make--feel free to make a few of your own!