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

 

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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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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

 

 

The Pitfalls of Mother’s Day

As I lay in bed snuggling my daughter tonight, I started thinking about people I know for whom tomorrow is going to be difficult – the mother whose daughter was just diagnosed with cancer.  The husband and two daughters whose wife/mother died suddenly earlier this year.  The friend whose relationship with his mother is strained because of deep-held and widely different understandings of what sin is.  The mother of a preschooler and an infant who posted one of those things on Facebook this week about the utter frustration about not being able to get it all done.  The mother who was first to find her daughter’s body.  The woman whose daughter has made bad choice after bad choice, who was treated savagely this last month.

But then there’s the first-time mom, a woman I knew in her twenties, who glows in every picture she posts.

Flowers, chocolates, and sweet cards can’t make up for all the fraught-ness of Mother’s Day.  I dread Mother’s Day in church, knowing that for some it’s right up there with Easter and Christmas and for others it’s a day to avoid the worship and sweetness and light.  Before I met my husband, when my own hope to become a mother was slipping away, silently and ashamedly, I was leading prayers one Mother’s Day.  At the first service, a well-intentioned person asked prayers for all those women who had hoped to become mothers who never did.  I felt as though he had shined a klieg light on all that I was trying to suppress that day.  I made it through that service, and then collapsed. My good colleagues covered for me, but it was excruciating and humiliating.

Why all the fraughtness? Why is Mother’s Day the be-all-end-all for some and the nadir of existence for others?  Does Father’s Day carry the same peculiar heft?  Maybe it goes way back to a time when a woman’s worth was measured by her ability to bear children, especially those of the male variety.  Maybe it has to do with the different emotionality of women (which, I suspect, isn’t really all that different from the emotionality of men.)

But maybe in the end it’s because Mother’s Day is really about life, but pinpointed and concentrated.  Mother’s Day reminds us of how we’ve been loved in this life.  Mother’s Day reminds us of hopes fulfilled and crushed.  Mother’s Day magnifies the grief and the joy, the disappointment and the exhaustion.

This morning my daughter and I painted the door to our garage.  I really wanted to do it by myself, so I could get it right; she really wanted to do it with me, because she loves me and loves to be with me.  Seven years into this mother-thing, I have figured that part out.  It’s not about being perfect; it’s not about the flowers and chocolate and matching apron and oven mitts that I know are waiting for me tomorrow.

It is about the moments, the little moments of squirting paint, and getting out splinters, and shouting and making up.  The grief and the disappointment and the frustration lurk around the corner.  But we got our door painted today, on Saturday, and as far as I’m concerned, I’ve already had a great Mother’s Day.

So raise a glass or a mug tomorrow to someone you love – someone who’s here, or someone who’s gone; someone who is your mom or someone who is your hero; someone who’s load is unbearable, or someone who radiates joy in every fiber of his being.  Raise a glass to the good, however it comes, and whoever it looks like for you.photo

Estate Sale

estate saleThis morning, at 5:07 am, as I was trying to fall back asleep after my daughter with the runny nose had crawled into bed, I heard two car doors close.  A few minutes later (still awake) I heard another car door close.  Then I drifted off.  At 6:30, I went downstairs, chatted with my husband about the new puppy, and noticed a line of people outside our neighbor’s house.  At 7:00, when I left to go for a walk, the line was longer and there was no street parking available anywhere nearby.  At 7:30, when I returned, the line of people went around the corner, and more people were coming, some carrying folding chairs.

As it turns out, my neighbor was having an estate sale; better put, my neighbor’s attorney was having an estate sale on her behalf.  My neighbor is still alive, but since last summer has been living in a care facility.  When we moved here a year and a half ago, we didnt’ meet her but we met her caregivers, three of them, who provided 24-hour care.  She grew up in that house and lived there ninety-something years; she never married, she had no family, only her caregivers.  At least once a month we would see an ambulance out front, and she would be taken to the hospital for a few days, only to return.  I don’t know what precipitated the final move to the care facility.  I only know that the house has sat empty for the last nine months.

the nosy neighbor

the nosy neighbor from Bewitched

Last week there was a landscaping crew out there, trimming trees, mowing the lawn.  I should have known something was up. Last night, in a Gladys Kravitz sort of way, I peeked out the front window straining my eyes to read the signs that were taped to the garage.  Couldn’t read ’em.  Went to bed.  Woke up early, got annoyed quickly.

But after a day of cars coming and going, the line of people stretching and dwindling like pulled taffy, I ventured across the street, much more interested in the house itself than the stuff for sale inside.  Some friendly people from the estate-sale-planning place were out front.  I went in through the garage into the basement.  A beautiful inlaid wood table here, some old skies there.  A makeshift bedroom.  A laundry room.  At narrow, steep staircase up, which I took.   Three bedrooms, one off limits, kitchen, eating nook, living room, presumably a bathroom somewhere.  And people.  Lots of people.  Lots of people going through lots of stuff.

I did look at the stuff, but doing it felt wrong and creepy.  I have no problem with estate sales, garage sales, thrift stores, Goodwill, any of it.  I think it’s great that people reuse old things.  But I felt like a voyeur, going through my neighbor’s house, wondering whose wedding dress that was, since my neighbor never married.  Had she been engaged, called things off, got left at the altar?  And the pink dishes – was pink her favorite color?  Were they old Fiestaware, worth something?   Was she a skier, and if so, why did she have more than one set? It smelled as though a pet had lived there, but I don’t recall ever seeing one.

One woman was going through a box of old photos, and that’s what just about did me in.  She went through those photos, keeping some, leaving others.  Why?  I can’t imagine she knew the woman, or the people in the photos.  Was she an artist, collecting objects for a collage?  Did she have a fascination with old black and whites?  Was there something sinister in her desire for photos of people she didn’t know?

I think a lot about the stuff I’ve accumulated in my life.  We have three sets of china – china we registered for when we got married, china that belonged to my grandmother, china that belonged to my husband’s grandmother.  Will my daughter want all that china?  Will I get rid of it before she is saddled with that decision when I’m old and demented and in a care facility?  And what about all the photos – and I mean all the photos?  Should I organize them, label them, scrapbook them, scan them, or every ten years go through them and get rid of the ones that don’t matter any more?

Do I want some stranger rifling through my things?  Do I want my daughter to have to rifle through my things?

I think about the things that we accumulate because they have meaning to us.  They are memories and mementos, reminders of who we once were, a Girl Scout, a debater, a musical theater geek; a camp counselor, a teacher, a student body president; a granddaughter, a divorcee, a roommate.

I don’t expect my daughter to find meaningful the things that I have found meaningful.  She will choose her own memories and mementos.  I imagine a few will be of my husband and me, but she will collect things unique to her, to her life, to her experience.  She should feel free to let go of those things of mine that have no meaning for her – but not till I’m gone.

In the end, while I do believe in holding fast to what is good, sometimes it is better to let go of what was good, once.

Seven

I don’t remember much about being seven, but here’s what I do remember:

That my teacher, Miss Manley, got married in the middle of the year and then we needed to call her Mrs. Dwyer.  She invited us all to her wedding, and I wore my sister’s hand-me-down blue dress with the pretty ribbon on the front.  My best friend Jeanne asked me to wear that dress for her birthday, but I forgot.

Me at 7

Me at 7

I remember playing Lost in Space with Carolyn and Cindy, the two girls who lived across the street who were both a year older than I was; I always had to play Penny because I was the youngest, but I really wanted to play Judy.  I also remember the smell of the Avon girl’s “lipstick” – sort of chocolate-y and cake batter-ish.

I remember my little brother was born when I was seven.  I don’t remember the exact day he came home, but I do remember being annoyed when he would cry in the middle of the night and wake me up.  (Our relationship has improved since then.)

That’s really about all I remember.  We moved from New Jersey to Texas when I was eight, so it’s easy for me to differentiate years.  But I don’t remember much, which bothers me ever so slightly because my daughter just turned seven, and is navigating new landscapes every day, landscapes that bear no resemblance to anything I remember from that time in my life.

She loves screens – computer screens, tv screens, Iphone screens, and we limit her.  When I was seven we had one black and white tv with an antenna; watching Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom followed by the Wonderful World of Disney on a Sunday night was a big deal.  Now, we DVR things when we can’t watch them live, or she watches things again and again, while we try mightily to limit all the screen time to under two hours, just like the Wise People say we should.

Life is VERY dramatic for her.  She weeps – weeps- when she forgets to bring back her library books, weeps when she has to brush her teeth in the morning.  She is highly put out when the teacher rearranges the seating and she has to sit by Guy, who is annoying, and Ivan, who is distracting.  She is smart-mouthed and sassy, and when we enact the natural consequences of her bad choices, she sobs again.  We don’t spank her, mostly because I don’t think we could.  I remember only getting one spanking when I was little, for something we did when we went to Baskin Robbins.  To this day I have no idea what I did wrong; there was no connection between bad behavior and the spanking consequence, so that may have factored into our choice not to spank.

She dances.  She has moves that come out of some innate musical creature in here that just naturally gets the inference and mood of a song.  She invents steps.  She shakes her bum in a way that could bring Child Welfare out, so we only let her dance at home.

At seven, she has already figured out the Mommy Guilt card.  I don’t think she is actually trying to make me feel guilty, but she is quite articulate and expressive about her displeasure that I am always at work or at a meeting or something.  My mom stayed at home with us four kids, which is a different kind of a struggle, but I don’t remember even wishing she was around more.  (Nor do I remember wishing she was around less.)

She’s seven, and the world isn’t scary yet.  Strangers are still just potential friends and not threats.  She still believes in Santa Claus, though she’s a little more suspicious about the Tooth Fairy.  She still gets lost in her imagination, playing for hours at a time with her Polly Pockets or stuffed animals or those Little People she just won’t give away yet.  To her, the words “fart”, “poop”, and “chicken” are the most hilarious words in the English language.

She tells me I’m the best mom in the world, and that she loves me more than  a chicken nugget, and that she will go to the local community college so that she can live with us forever.  That will change.  But for now, while she’s seven, I’m glad she loves us so much and so freely.  Everyone should have a seven-year-old in their life, if only to remind them how fun and complex the world is.

Word Nerd at Prayer

Word Nerd at Prayer

I am the first to admit that I am not great at prayer, which might not be a problem for you, except that I am the pastor of a congregation, and with that comes a certain expectation that I will also be a good pray-er, that I will be devoted to my inner spiritual well-being, that I have set aside time each day to bask in the presence of God.

I intend to, I do.  But….

So the other night I was in bed, lights were out, and I was trying to fall asleep but couldn’t, so I decided to pray (since, frankly, prayer often does put me to sleep.) I am still ruminating on the murders at Newtown, and as the mother of a six-year-old, I’m having trouble letting it all go. So I’m praying for my daughter, and I ask God to protect her and guide her and to help me keep her-

Then I derail. “No,” I’m thinking to myself, “Keep isn’t the right word. It’s not a good word to use before God. ‘Keep’ suggests control, and I don’t want to control her; what’s the right verb?” And off I go into my little cranial thesaurus, all thoughts of God swept to the wayside.

It’s a privilege to love words and the Word. I love that my calling lets me use words all the time – words for prayer and for sermons, words for classes, even knowing when no word is appropriate. Maybe that’s a gift from God, and maybe God understands if my prayer gets derailed by my verbal crisis. After all, as the poet of Genesis 1 says, God used words to make the world.

Or I could be completely wrong about all of this, have ticked God off by my inattentiveness, and await the word of condemnation from on high.

Word.