Feeling their oats

On a regular basis I get to be a part of the world of fifth grade girls, which is pretty terrific and always interesting.  Many of these girls I’ve known since kindergarten and it’s a joy to watch them grow up and grow into themselves, even as they reflect pieces of their parents.

I’ve noticed lately that many are beginning to feel their oats, to sashay about as they realize their powers and gifts.  Some are smart, some are athletic, some are quiet, some are thoughtful, some are goofy, some are kind.  Some are artists and some are writers and some are coders. Some see others as cute, and others see them as cute, in the I-want-to-go-out-with-you (but-I-don’t-know-what-that-means) sort of way.

Most of them still have one foot in childhood and one foot in adolescence  Some are further along that road than others, and feel that mortal peril of being the first one with unwanted pimples, hair that just shouldn’t be where it is, body odor, and the mother of all embarrassements, the dreaded period.

They’re figuring out what is injustice and what is simply carelessness. They’re learning about politics too – when I was in fifth grade, Nixon resigned. Now they watch and learn during the Trump administration.  They experience disappointment and happiness as they lose and they win.  They also face boredom, and the consequence of saying to a parent, “I’m bored.  There’s nothing to do.”

Like a Virginia Reel, they weave in and out of old and new friendships.  I’m never quite sure who is whose best friend at any given moment, and that does seem to change on a weekly basis.  They text now, and Skype, and email.  They never talk on the phone with each other, which was a hallmark of my early adolescence.  Nor do they carry tv show themed lunchboxes.  They’d rather die than do that.

I’m the mother of one of those girls, and most of the time I feel like my job is to encourage the good that is there and not to mess it up.  And as much as my daughter and her friends are learning what it is to grow up and to become tweens, I as a parent learn everyday too. When do I react to the drama and when do I let it be?  When do I console, and when do I offer another view?  The last thing I want to be is a helicopter parent, but oh, the temptation is there!

I think J. K. Rowling knew what she was doing when she had kids start Hogwarts at age 11.  Those kids were beginning to realize their magical powers, and needed guidance and education.  I feel that way about these girls because, yes, they are powerful.  They can’t even imagine yet what gifts they have.  They’re beginning to learn about the choice to use their power for good or for harm, not with wands, but with words and deeds.

I imagine sometimes what they’ll be like in high school or even in college, and I don’t get too far because nothing is set in stone yet.  Or ever, really.  Who they are becoming today may not be who they end up as.  But what a dance.  What a journey.  What precious, precocious, powerful human beings they are.

Rock on, girls.  You’ve got this.IMG_0487

 

Mary & Me

img_9952Mary is making the rounds again this Advent, and as per usual, I’m not entirely sure what to do with her.

Is she the model of female submission?  The victim of unwanted impregnation?  Is she too young to marry and bear a child, or just the right age for her time and place?  Is she quiet and shy, head bent down, eyes gazing at the floor?

Or is she a warrior, a Rosie-the-Riveter, the woman who not only said yes but also said let’s topple the patriarchy?  Is she the one who turned surprising news into a power play?

Is she the faithful servant?  Is she a good-enough mother?

Oy, Mary.  Oy.

True confession: in the first few weeks after I gave birth, I found myself praying to Mary.  I was pretty sure that God the Father and God the Son and that merry, floating, fire-y Holy Spirit could not begin to understand hemorrhoids, c-section scars, engorged breasts, and the complete feeling of inadequacy and terror, even with all the Godhead had learned during the Incarnation.  So I sent a few up to the BVM.  Because she knew.  She had been there, and on a donkey, no less, in some small, non-private smelly place with animals, away from family, donut cushions, and Tylenol.

This week in worship our choir is presenting five songs about Mary and while I’m off the hook for a sermon, I do find myself wondering about Mary again.  The Magnificat could be posted on Pantsuit Nation and get 10,000 likes.  The role of women in Christianity could be looked at anew – are we simply to say yes to the church, yes that’s our role in the kitchen and the nursery, yes we’ll let the men do all the heavy lifting of teaching and preaching?  Or do we look to Mary and say, hey, we’re called to topple thrones and send the rich away hungry?  We’ll be in the kitchen and the pulpit, thank you very much.

Mary fades from the story as it goes on; it is Jesus’ story, after all.  Maybe the tune of the Magnificat faded too, and people forgot the melody.  Maybe we lost sight of what a revolutionary Mary was.  Maybe we need to reclaim that, for the church, for Pantsuit Nation, for our daughters, for our sons.  For our world.

“My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant.
Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name.
His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation.
He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly;
he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty.
He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy,
according to the promise he made to our ancestors,
to Abraham and to his descendants forever.”

May it be so.  Amen.

 

Bleak Midwinter

rainIt rains so much in the Pacific Northwest. Although our little family usually doesn’t put up any Christmas decorations until the first or second week in December, this year has been so rainy and so dark we decided to hang the outdoor lights on the day after Thanksgiving.

There are those years when “In the Bleak Midwinter” is my favorite Christmas carol, that or “O Come, All Ye Faithful.”  This year the bleakness wins, and it’s not just the weather.

We’ve lost some dear saints in the congregation this year. I look out in the pews on Sunday morning and I see their spouses and their children and their friends sitting there without them, and melancholy descends.  It’s their first season without this person who brought light or warmth or laughter or kindness to their life.

Then there is the bruising left over from the election season, and the uptick in hate crimes since November 8.  There’s Syria, and refugees, and poverty that never, ever abates for some people.  There is the reality of aging parents.  On some days if feels as though Yeats was terribly prescient: the centre cannot hold; mere anarchy has been loosed upon the world.  I too am slouching towards Bethlehem.

If my sweet little family’s Christmastide celebrations began on December 24 and ended on the 26th, I would be happy.  But my daughter loves Christmas.  It’s her favorite holiday, and it has nothing to do with Santa or presents.  There’s nothing she really wants for Christmas – except to be with family, which is hard with two clergy parents.

When I ask her why she loves Christmas, this is what she says.  “Everyone is so joyful, and everything is so pretty and decorated.  There are so many lights, and people sing.”

I’m not sure where she picked this up as I’m usually a bit crabby during Christmas, failing miserably at being mom, spouse, and pastor all at once.  She sees through that, or around it or beyond it.  She sees the big picture: we celebrate Light coming into the world.

So perhaps this month, as the rains pour down and it’s hard to tell if the sun has risen yet; this month, as the news tells more terrible stories, and people tell stories of grief and fear; this month, as I once more fail at being a cheerful pastor/mom:

I will look to my daughter, so happy for this season.  I will look at her with hope for the joy she will carry into this month and the years that lie ahead.  I will look to her with a gratitude that goes beyond words, gratitude for her presence and her life.  I will look to her so that she can show me the way, even through the bleak midwinter.

For a little child shall lead them.

For my girl

june-032You were who you were from the beginning
Tickling me in the womb,
Reluctant about change when it was time to be born.

But there you were.  Pink and whole and glorious and terrifying.

Now I think of you in blues and browns
And gray, your favorite color
(which I hope does not mean you’re depressed, merely independent)

Ten is turning out to be a delightful age, and I thank you for
those conversations we have as you learn to hold your own with your rather verbal parents;
for those questions you ask, like do I remember the places I was when really sad things happened like 9/11 and Sandy Hook

Watching you navigate the undulating landscape of approaching tweendom
(God help us all, literally)
And seriously, your vocabulary.  When did you learn all those words?

Your kindness to younger children
Your age-appropriate demand for fairness
Your unselfconscious beauty

Your sweetness and your sass
Your bad moods and the eye rolls you seem to have perfected
Your yearning that all your family lived nearby

Your wish that we could go away for Christmas
And that your parents had weekends off like normal parents

We’re doing all we can to help you dig those roots and sprout those wings
And as it turns out, all we really need to do is stand out of the way.

Go! Stay! Fly! Dig deep!

Words are so inadequate for love.

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My sainted grandmother

(Note: I think these next seven days are going to be a bit brutal, and the news and social media will not present our better angels.  So for these next seven days, I’ll write posts about something I find beautiful or happy or warm.  Just in case you need a brief respite from the election.)

family-pix-002In some ways, anyone who knew my grandmother would not immediately say she was a saint, not in the traditional “sweetness, goodness, and light” sort of way.  She caught my grandfather’s eye while dancing on a table at the local tavern, or so the story goes.  They married in 1925 and were married until, sixty-three years later, my grandfather died in his sleep in the bed they shared.

This is one of my favorite memories about Mary Hansler.

Every summer we would visit my grandparents in Washington State, and coming from New Jersey, and then Texas, that was a big deal.  It was a big deal for them, too.  We might spend a night at their home in Tacoma, but the real goal was to get to the Ranch, the property they bought in the early 1940’s outside Mt. Rainier National Park.

We’d get up to that mountain air and know we weren’t home.  It smelled of fir trees and mint and we needed jackets to go outside; without television, the most constant sound was the creek babbling near by.  Other family members might come up while we were there, and the siblings and cousins would take turn washing all those dishes by hand.

But the real winner of the whole deal was breakfast.  My grandmother loved to fish, more than anything else in the whole world.  She would get up before dawn, grab her pole and reel, and head to the creek.  While she was gone, Grandpa would light the wood stove and start the percolator.  Grandma would come home, clean the trout, make biscuit batter.  If one of the kids was up, they’d be sent out to the raspberry patch to pick berries.

Then she’d dredge those rainbow trout in flour and lemon pepper and set the big cast iron pan on the stove, and put a slab of butter in it.  Down went the trout, so fresh they’d curl up as they cooked.  Biscuits went in the oven. Juice and milk and cream and sugar and homemade blackberry jelly went on the table.

img_9609And then we ate. We stuffed ourselves silly, to get ready for a day of moving rocks in the creek and hiking up Mt. Osborn and washing dishes by hand.  Grandma sat at the head of the table, her little brown tea pot next to her, her eyes twinkling, her cheeks perpetually rosy.  She could be sharp sometimes, but I think nothing gave her more joy than seeing her family, some of whom lived too far away, gathered at that table devouring the feast she made possible.

So on this All Saints day, I say a prayer of thanks for all  my grandparents, whose love formed my parents and in turn me. And I say a prayer of thanks for rainbow trout, and raspberries and blackberries, and butter, and biscuits, and family.

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The forgiveness racket

My child has figured out that there’s no winning in forgiveness.   I was hoping we could have put that off a little longer, like the Santa Claus and birds-and-bees talks, but no.  It turns out that these days they’re teaching empathy at school, so when someone, say, teases you, you can get mad and you can get hurt, but you are also supposed to try to figure out what’s going on with them that would make them do that thing to you.  And then, if you live in our house, you also have to work on forgiving them.

I realize there are adults who could stand to learn this lesson, adults like me, for example.  I also realize that forgiveness is pretty much the cornerstone of what Jesus had to say.  And I believe that the only way families and marriages and societies survive with spontaneously combusting on a bad day is by the power and practice of forgiveness.

Still, it’s a hard lesson for at least one nine-year-old I know.  Because she now also realizes that the onus of forgiveness lies with the one who got hurt.  It’s so NOT FAIR, as she would say.  Yes, I would say, it is so not fair.  There’s no guarantee that when you forgive someone they won’t turn around the next day and be mean or hurtful again. The hurt person has to become the bigger person and dig up some empathy and work on staying in relationship with that other person, even if “staying in relationship” means not pouring water all over their diorama and not tripping them when they walk by.  It’s the elementary school version of reconciliation.  But it’s a start.

I believe this lesson about forgiveness will come in handy one day, when she has to forgive me for something truly awful that I’ve done, as opposed to the unpardonable sins of giving her the mom look in church or embarrassing her in front of her friends by saying hello.  It may also come in handy some day – and the lesson may actually stick – some day when I forgive her for something awful that she did.  Because I suspect that day is coming, and in the less than distant future.

So we’ll work on the injustice of forgiveness.  Maybe I’ll learn something, too.

o-FORGIVENESS-facebook

 

 

“I don’t want to grow up”

My child has no interest in being an adult, which makes me wonder what she hears her dad and me saying. Then it makes perfect sense.

Debt. Black mold. Mortgage. Death. Weight. Loans. Responsibility. Health. Dentists. Voting. Jobs. Work. The economy. Guns. Colonoscopy.

So, yes, if that’s all I ever heard, I probably wouldn’t want to grow up either.

When I was in junior high my older brother and sister were in high school and were being pretty typical teenagers. I said to my mother one day, ” I will never be like them.”  And I wasn’t.  I was much much worse.

Because what my daughter doesn’t  know, and what my junior high self did not know, was that there are these things called hormones which kick in and for a little while take over your life. You learn to manage them – eventually – and by the mid-twenties the frontal lobe finally develops and things begin to calm down. Then before you know it you’re 51 and tired and there’s black mold in the basement and your kid doesn’t want to be an adult.

But in just a few years she’ll start to think boys are kind of interesting (or maybe girls, just to be fair.) She will want to drive the car and have more independence than her bicycle currently affords. She will want to go away to college as far away from us as possible, in South Africa maybe, or the Arctic Circle.

For some (but not all) there is this little golden time when you get your first taste of independence before responsibility sets in. For me, it was at the end of high school and the beginning of college, when my biggest worries were exams and which Icelandic sweater pattern I should start next.

Job interviews were a wake-up call, as was getting fired from my third job. Going to everyone else’s wedding without having one of my own introduced me to the loneliness sneaks up in adulthood. Also, buying my first vacuum cleaner: a sure sign that I was truly on my own.

I pray my daughter will grow up and live every moment between now and then, the good, the bad, and the pimply.  Because as an adult I have learned that life is to be lived, not rehearsed or perfected.