Learning to live in the world

“I just don’t want my kid exposed to all of that stuff,” the one mother said with concern in her voice.

“Kids talk about drugs and sex at school these days,” another mother replied, “I don’t want to be one of those paranoid moms who home-schools their kid and screens all of their friends and playmates, but…”

I am party to these kinds of conversations from time to time, and I’m often the odd one out.

“Well, exposure is inevitable,” I will say.  “Even if you keep your kid from it until they move out, they WILL move out- and better that they know how to process everything they are exposed to than that they are naive and taken advantage of.”

When I went to college there was a girl living in my hall that had been raised in a somewhat closed community and sent to a private school.  She’d never had a sip of alcohol, never known anyone who used drugs, never so much as kissed a boy.

Her life spiraled out of control so quickly that she didn’t know what she was doing.  Here she was living in a world she had no idea how to deal with.  She didn’t know when to say, “enough.”  She didn’t know how to say no, how to control her desires, how to keep her spine stiff and her morals intact.  And she is not the only Christian in the history of the written word to have her life fall to pieces as soon as she left her parents moral compass.

As a parent, your job isn’t to shield your child from the world- your job is to teach them how to live in it.  While my parents did caution me to stay away from drugs and alcohol and never would have knowingly let me go somewhere that drugs and alcohol were being consumed- they also realized that these things can pop up under the most innocuous of situations (like during warm ups for marching band) and taught me how to refuse, how to make good choices, how to choose friends that wouldn’t pressure me into things I didn’t want.

They taught me not just the precepts of my faith but how to defend it against attack.  They taught me critical thinking and rationalism.  They never said, “that is true because I say it is.”  If questioned, they would explain the rationale.  If they couldn’t explain the rationale, we researched it.  If it turned out that they were wrong they wouldn’t get defensive and angry, they’d accept the truth with humility and congratulate my thirst for knowledge.

I was taught never to accept the words of others as reality until I’d seen the facts defended.  This was especially helpful when I would be mocked for not doing what “everyone” was doing, since “everyone” seemed to be four people with poor judgment who had accepted failure as inevitable and had no desire for excellence.  If that was “everyone”, I didn’t want to be everyone.

Needless to say, as a young adult I wasn’t an extension of my parents will- I was my own person, I knew what I wanted and what I believed, and I wasn’t swayed by the mob mentality or desire for the acceptance of my peers.  I knew where my worth lay, and it wasn’t in the approval of others, as so many kids my age felt.  I didn’t need to be liked to feel secure, so I didn’t give into pressure.

Sin wasn’t a temptation- I knew what sin was and what it cost.  Sex had consequences which had been described to me in gruesome detail by my mother- not just the physical consequences, but the emotional ones.  The same was true of drugs and alcohol.  As a fourteen year old I knew what being drunk could do, as well as getting high.  I liked my liver, being able to stand up straight and having my inhibitions and social filters in tact.  So when I was older and my friends started drinking regularly I already knew that I didn’t want to go there.  Experimenting seemed unnecessary.  And when I was in college and I was visiting friends and they got out-of-their-minds drunk, I stayed sober so that I could give them a humiliating account of their actions the next morning.

By the time that I was living on my own in the world, I knew how to cope with it.  The gradual letting go process that my parents underwent was final.  It wasn’t a sudden cut like some of my friends underwent.  I didn’t feel out in the world terrified, unmoored and unsure of my direction.

As a parent one of the most important jobs you have is informing your child and preparing them for the moment they are on their own, without you as their compass, needing to be ready to live a full and healthy life.  Part of that means showing them the world- both the bad and the good- and giving them the tools to know the difference.

The Family is a Higher Calling

So.  I have been accused of being a bad feminist. I’ve been accused of being stereotypically biased against women.

I think I’ve failed to be clear enough.  My problem with Sarah Palin is that she is a full time working mother who has a full time working husband- and they’ve both been clear that neither career will be postponed.  My irritation with Sarah Palin does not have to extend to Obama, because Michelle has made it clear that she will be a mother first, and everything else can wait.  She doesn’t go out on the campaign trail full time.  Eighty percent of the time the kids sleep in their own beds, and wake up to mommy having breakfast waiting for them.  If this were the situation that Sarah Palin’s family would be experiencing- only with daddy putting out breakfast, I would shrug and say that I hope that he knows how to change a diaper and is going to help his daughter transition into motherhood.  My dad was a stay-at-home dad for part of my childhood- I think that either parent can fit that bill.

The point is that if you choose to have a family, you are choosing for one or both parents to put their own careers on hold in order to raise said family.  Children need a consistent parental figure for the first three years of their lives- the most important three years of their lives.  Teenagers need a parent who knows where they are, what they are doing, and with whom.  They need accountability and a firm hand.  (Note, however, that even really great parents can raise kids that do stupid things, as stupid things are a part of finding individuality that every child has to do- some things more stupid than others.)

I have a problem with any parent that will take a child onto the national stage and then desert them.  I don’t care if it’s a man or a woman.  If Sarah wants to pursue her career and her husband puts his on hold, kudos to them.  If Michelle puts hers on hold for Barack’s sake, kudos to her.  The question simply becomes, “if one of you has a calling to the national stage- who is called to the family?”

Because, honestly, the family is a higher calling.  There is no better thing that someone can do than to raise well-adjusted kids who can take care of themselves and raise good kids in turn.  Our country depends on generations of well-adjusted kids far more than anything else.  Nationalized health care won’t do anyone any good if most of the population are sociopaths.

Joys of Domesticity

I hate the fact that time has turned things like keeping house, cooking for the family, and tending to the yard into things that are by their nature somehow demeaning to women.  I find a lot of pleasure in knowing that my family is well cared for.  I LIKE a clean house, a tidy and often used kitchen, the smell of a meal cooking on the stove.  I prefer spending my evenings in the garden than to sitting around watching television.

I sometimes think about having a career, but I don’t know that it would be more fulfilling than domesticity.  I don’t think that being a housewife is my highest or most important calling, I don’t think that it is the extent of all that I’m made for, but it is usefull.

And, hey, if there ever IS a zombie apocalypse, my family won’t have to worry about being well fed.  I also am fairly good at going without electricity.  Long power outages in snowstorms have sort of prepped me for the end of all things.

I just think that while women’s suffrage was a good and necessary thing, the backlash against being pigeonholed as women has cost us a lot as well.  Breastfeeding your child isn’t demeaning, it’s healthy and natural.  Caring for your family isn’t a torment, it’s a gift to both family and caregiver.  Domesticity has it’s joys and importance.  It may not be as “important” as being president, but…  How big of a price tag does a happy, well fed and well loved child carry?  I’d gladly trade my own dreams for the future for the dreams of my kids.

Not because I’m forced to.  Because I want to.

My daughter, the peacemaker

So yesterday my husband and I were having one of those “intense discussions” that married couples must have from time ot time, and my daughter happened to still be awake despite the lateness of the hour.  She hates for either my husband or I to be upset and she almost always chooses to try to cheer us up.  So she puts ribbons in my hair, she dances and sings for me, she does a million little things that distract me from the topic at hand and frankly started to annoy me after a while.

At some point in the conversation I turned to her and said, “mommy and daddy really need to talk about this, please stop talking to me.”

What does she do?  She mimes by pointing at my lips and pointing at my husbands lips and then making “kissing face” and emphatically waves her arms around.  I said, “mommy really doesn’t feel like kissing daddy right now” and her face just deflated.  Very quietly she says, “please?”

So I take her in my lap and hold her, and eventually she wanders off to play in her bedroom.  And there’s this part of me that just felt awful.  I felt awful because I hadn’t wanted her to have to see us upset with each other, because she sincerely tried everything she knew how to try to lighten the situation, because she is little and still thinks that everything can be made better with a kiss like in the movies, because there’s a lot she has yet to learn about how a marriage operates and my husband and I made the decision long ago that we would let our children see us fight but we would always fight fair, so that when they got married they would have a good example to work from.

But… part of me maybe felt like lately we’re not setting the best example.

Yet even so, I look at my daughter and the kind of person she is, and I know that despite every area of my life in which I fall short, in one area I have done really well.  Well, I can’t take full credit for her.  My husband has done really well, and God himself did spectacularly when he mixed her DNA.

You may think you know everything there is to know about life.  Then you have kids.  And every single day is a lesson about life, love, patience, tolerance, discovery, anxiety, anger…  Every thing you could possibly feel, good and bad, they will teach you to deal with.  And the real miracle?  When you tuck them in to bed you will kiss them and cry and be grateful that they forced you to feel.  You will hate the fact that they will ever grow up and leave you.

It’s just…  awe inspiring.  Yes.  Those are the words.

Cereal and Deception

My daughter, whom we shall here on in refer to as “Spanky”, is starting to learn deception.  This morning she came into the kitchen where I was prepping a bottle for her brother, and she walked right by me to dump the remains of her cereal into a bucket and hide the bucket.  (Why not just use the trash?)

She then holds the empty bowl up and says, “I’m still hungry.”

“You want more cereal?”  I ask her.

“Yes.”

“What about that cereal?”  I point at the bucket.

“It doesn’t have marshmellows any more,” Spanky replies.

I let out a big sigh and ask her if maybe she’d rather have an orange than a bowl of cereal she’ll only eat a fifth of.

Spanky replies, “Oooh!  Oranges!” and our kitchen drama ends.

But it made me think.  My little girl is learning deception.  Sure, it’s not great deception, but she figured out that an empty bowl is more convincing, and she artificially emptied it.  It really doesn’t take long for the shine to wear off of innocence.  And it’s not because we are cruel, or devious, or innately evil- it’s simply selfishness.  We prize our own desires more than truth or sincerity, so we lie.

Through my children I have learned that everything is learned.  They come out knowing nothing, not even knowing how to purposefully get a hand to their mouth.  A great deal they learn through trial and error, they learn a bit from observation, but mostly they are taught.  And now I embark on another teaching adventure.  I teach my daughter that sincerity and truth are prized more in this household than her desires are.  It’s not a lesson I really want to give, as I know it will hurt her, but it’s one I have to give, so I will.

And in that way, she is also teaching me about God.

Life is so…  like life.  There’s nothing else like it.

please, DO think of the children

Every time gay marriage is mentioned, someone eventually says something along the lines of:

“But think about the children!”

The nuclear family is eroding, family values are plummeting, one can only imagine how the next generation will turn out…

My inevitable response is, “yes, DO think of the children.”

Given the state of affairs in America, shouldn’t every single child that could have a loving family be placed with one? Shouldn’t gay people who want to be parents have that chance? What is better: that a child have no home, or two fathers? Personally, I believe that every family is flawed. Every parent has problems, every relationship has strain. It is impossible to raise a child in an environment where they will be exposed to no pain, no criticism by peers, no sin. There are going to be straight parents who fight and divorce, kids with two sets of parents, kids raised by people who are “less than seemly” to say it simply. Given that fact, I personally would say that anyone who loves a child and wants to raise it should be given the chance, assuming that there is no abuse or potential for deep harm.

I just don’t think that someone being gay is enough harm. What if the parent was straight, but a serial cheater? What if the parent was straight and left the mother of the child for a younger, sluttier model? Is modeling that behavior somehow WORSE than homosexuality?

So I say, please, DO think of the children. And ask yourself if the worst thing a parent does is love another person of the same gender, does that somehow disqualify them from parenthood? What if they love their kids, hold them when they can’t sleep at night, make them homecooked meals, send brownies to the teachers, do their homework with them, hem their pants, and also hold hands with another man? Does the last item make all of the others mean less?

I don’t think it does.

Gay Marriage

There are times I feel like I’ve written all I can on the subject of Christianity and Homosexuality. And then there are times, like today, when I feel like I haven’t. I’m not sure how my mind wandered to this particular topic, but I was laying awake with my son and all the sudden I thought, “I really don’t get this whole thing.” I understand why gays want to get married- I don’t understand why Christians don’t want to allow it. Well, I do understand the reasoning (don’t cheapen something sacred) I just don’t understand how that equates to gay marriage being wrong.

Allow me to explain myself. Right now, anyone can get married as long as they are heterosexual, not cousins, and not married to someone else. That means that it’s not just Christians who understand the “sacredness” of what they are engaging in who are getting married. Not all people get married in God’s house, either. I myself was married in a courthouse, by a judge, about ten minutes after receiving the marriage certificate. The service, the attire and the atmosphere were all far less than sacred and holy, right down to the stuffed crab in my back pocket and the fact I had a horrible case of the giggles and could barely say my vows. What makes my marriage holy is not the laws or the way in which it was made- it is the two people in it, their heart and their attitude. My marriage is not made less holy by the high divorce rate or the people who enter into it for the wrong reasons. The only marriage that effects the holiness of my marriage is MY marriage.

Gay marriage is not about whether or not heterosexual marriage is holy- it is about protection. It is about the protections afforded by a piece of paper that says “these two people are legally united.” It is about the way in which a couple is percieved who can provide that paper when legality is necessary. It is about little rules like hospital visiting hours in which two people with their names on that paper are afforded different rights than those who do not have it. It is about tax breaks, ownership, joint checking accounts, discounts and retirement communities. It’s about equality. It’s about the fact that any time two people decide to share a life, they are terrified. They don’t know what the future holds. They never can fully understand what signing their names beside each other really means. It’s about that sense trust and devotion that comes with the decision to share all things, including toothbrush holders and a carton of milk. It’s about the fact that I am not more privileged, more protected, in making this journey than anyone else should be.

If I have a piece of paper that says that I can sleep at my husbands side every night, even if he’s in the hospital and breathing his last, everyone else who wants that piece of paper should be able to get it. That doesn’t mean that pastors and priests will now be FORCED to wed gays, any more than they now are forced to wed every snot-nosed heterosexual kid who says he’s ready. Every individual always has and hopefully always will have the right to use their own judgment and say no. But just as I had the right to have my own marriage papers undersigned by my county judge, gay people should at the very least be afforded the right to that paper. That’s all I have to say for now.