the gifts of the anti-magi

This post has been a long time coming.  This time of the year is always difficult for me, as I feel torn between holiday cheer and resentful drear, obligation and celebration, hope and despair.

I am so very sick of the war on Christmas.

“Oh, good,” some of my Christian friends may be saying at this point, “me too!  Why can’t people just put Christ back into Christmas?”

No, dear friends and readers, that’s not what I mean.  I’m sick of the phrase “put the Christ back in Christmas” and all of the entitlement it entails.  I wish it would all just stop.  Now, I understand that may not sound terribly Christian of me, but hold on.  You may say that your anger and demands are for the sake of Christ, and I wouldn’t want to disparage your motives.  I’m not in your head and I don’t know what you’re thinking.  Yet there’s a painful sticking point in that concession, and it’s one that bears hearing out.  Saying “put the Christ back in Christmas” pretends, even for the space of that second, that Christ is something that can be moved and removed by man.  It implies that Christ’s presence in the holidays for us, as individuals, is somehow dictated by the actions of society.  I don’t like to believe that my experience of Christ this time of year is somehow beholden to the displays in Macy’s windows.  After all, the force of love I am enthralled by is greater than any one man, any one store, any one society.  How weak would I have to be if my sacred observances were somehow shattered by a greeting card?

“Now, it’s bigger than that”, someone inevitably says.  “The fact that people are no longer observing Christmas as a Christian holiday shows how secular society has become, and this is supposed to be a Christian society.”

Hold. On.  Please.

For one thing, the Christmas smashed all over billboards is hardly Christian.  The Christmas touted in the commercials telling our adorable little tots that this monster truck or that Barbie doll will somehow complete them are anything BUT Christian.  The promise of the holiday that society has started to hold on to is almost in direct contradiction to the Gospel.  The “spirit of Christmas”, as it is sold, is that the holiday itself has some ability to heal.  We’re told, in less than guarded symbolism, that if we buy the right things, eat the right food, invite the right guests, and have the right attitude that we will somehow achieve a transcendent state.  The holiday has become a spiritual act of reaching for sacred healing, but that sacred healing is not tied to God, Christ, or the ideals of Christianity.  It is a secular sacredness, and as such treating the holiday as holy is tantamount to idol worship.

After all, it is jolly ol’ Santa Claus receiving the sacramental cookies and milk, not God.

Christmas, the holy mass of Christ, was once not even Christmas at all.  You’ve got the Germanic Yule and the Roman Saturnalia blended in with Christianity, as the Roman empire expanded and brought in new territories and started to expand the practice of tolerance towards other religions.  In order to lower the amount of infighting between sects and oppression as people traveled from district to district, the Roman calendar morphed to overlap the holidays so that people’s observances were not as conspicuous.  It is ironic, then, that a holiday once tweaked to help avoid oppression and foster inclusiveness has become such a battleground.

Honestly, I don’t think Christmas is the real problem.  I think that Christianity has become the real problem.  In the United States, Christians have a huge entitlement complex that has become an idol above God.  We say that this is a Christian society and anyone that acts against that is out of line, ignoring the fact that we are all equal citizens under the law and Christians are not owed privilege or protection to any greater degree than their neighbors.  We act affronted when anything we deem as untoward is allowed to continue, no matter how innocuous it is.  We bicker and argue and fight constantly, sending our representatives to the evening news and gleefully hacking to bits anyone who dares to disagree with them.

Here, in this season of the Magi, when we celebrate the sacred gifts laid at the feet of Christ, I feel that Christians in America have started praising three other gifts, the gifts of the anti-Magi, laid at the feet of our own ego.  We have swallowed these gifts whole and they threaten to destroy us.  They are entitlement, disdain, and division.  Gifts like that are born of evil and exercised at great personal cost.  But open your eyes, brothers and sisters, and see how we worship them!  Hear the entitlement in the voice of the person telling the Jewish shop owner to put the “Christ” back in “Christmas” when they hand up a Happy Holidays banner.  Hear the disdain in the voice of the mother who, when hearing that a classmate of her child’s wouldn’t come to the Winter Program because they don’t celebrate holidays, says, “Well, isn’t that just what’s wrong with this country?” Look at the division when someone goes on Facebook to beg for tolerance and they are told that they are why Christianity is failing in this country.

I have so many friends who say they can’t stand to go to church, that every time they hear someone is a Christian they instantly feel uncomfortable around them, that they believe in Christ but not the church.

I feel like my soul is just shredded, absolutely shredded, by the holiday season.

la pieta

Christianity is not owed anything by society.  Nowhere in the Bible does it say, “Because you are Christian, everyone ought to respect you, respect everything you say, and never cause negative consequences for any of your actions.”  In fact, it says quite the opposite.  It tells us not to be surprised when we’re hated and persecuted.  So why are we so surprised?  Because we have idolized our own society.  We idolize the constitution, idolize free speech, idolize the symbolism of our holidays.  We worship those things as sacred and then react like vipers when they are threatened.  Because we blindly believe they should be perfect, we accept nothing less: even when, or perhaps especially when, the evidence all around us says otherwise.

We bear a tragic consequence for that behavior, but society bears one even worse as people turn from love to disdain and hatred.

So in this time of year, as we dream of the Magi traveling by the light of a sacred star, carrying gifts of adoration and penance to a pure and holy infant king, let’s think about the gifts that we ourselves need to offer.  Not the perfect consumerist presents wrapped in expensive wrapping paper and laid down at the altar of a tree whose symbolism we’ve forgotten, but the gifts we offer each other.

Let’s stop being the anti-Magi.

Photo from Daniela Munoz-Santos

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keeping the “mass” out of “Christmas”

A few weeks ago I was joking that I didn’t know how many “War on Christmas” rants I could stomach before something just came unglued in my head.  Well, here we are.

snowfire

First, I should explain.  Growing up, Christmas was always one of my favorite holidays.  It wasn’t because of the presents.  Many people tell stories of the holiday they got that one thing that they’d been wanting.  The excitement of decorating the Christmas tree, perhaps.  Or the piles of presents and wondering how many were for you.  My earliest memories of Christmas don’t involve a lot of presents.  Like, the year that we got a dishwasher and a radio for Christmas.  I don’t remember our house ever being super decorated, as decorations would cost money we didn’t have.  We’d paint the Christmas tree on the window, or pull branches off the pine tree in the back yard.  Christmas was a very simple time, but it was the time that no one had to go to school.  It was one of few times that my mother was really around all day long.  We’d either go spend the holiday with family in Indiana, or grandma and grandpa would come and be around our house to help with our kids all day.  There would be days on end of board games and baking, we’d eat cookies all day long and stay up too late.  I’d be able to check out as many books from the library as I wanted and read, read, read, read, read.

For me Christmas has always been about celebrating family, not getting crap.

But I look at the holiday these days, and all I see is, “BUY!  BUY!  BUY!”  Christmas is about guilt, when other people buy me things and I’m not in a position to reciprocate.  It’s about obligation, when you have to go to parties with people you don’t really like and pretend to like them.  It’s about the kids being told 24/7 by the TV and their friends that they should get more, more, more, more, more.  In modern days, I often feel, like my brilliant friend Tom, that there are two Christmases.  There’s the overwrought holiday of “Christmas” that is emblazoned all over the consumer society, one in which people are torn in a million directions and feel the constant panic of insufficiency.  It is the guilt riddled holiday that will never, could never, be what it is made to represent.  The house will never be decorated enough, the hostess gifts never chiq enough, the presents never in great enough number, the feeling never true enough, the togetherness never together enough, the spread never going far enough…  It is the crowning glory of the symbolism having come to obliterate the meaning.  It symbolizes all we crave but can never obtain.  And then there is the simple, understated Xmas, in which all of the trappings and glories of the holiday are stripped away, and all that is left is a simple night where people reach out to touch each other, reach out to honor each other, and remember that beneath all of the layers of meaning and argument and need, there is something very simple that needs to be remembered.

Our humanity.

See, Christmas was once a sacred holiday.  It was the mass of Christ’s birth, the symbol of hope and salvation for a world that was fractured and torn apart.  The blending of the pagan societies that Rome enveloped with the ministrations of the Holy Mother Church.  It symbolizes the hope of unity, and the celebration, even for a night, that though we all bring our own traditions to the table we can share them in a way that is beautiful.

If we’re honest, it’s not hard to see that consumerism has driven Christ out of Christmas.  Christ is overwhelmed by jolly red Santas and reindeer and snowmen and sales ads.  Christ, humble as he may be in his manger, is just a dot on the lawn compared to the Christmas lights and fringe and tinsel that make our homes, our lawns, our conspicuous consumption, the real star of the show.

And honestly, I feel that Christ is cheapened by being attached to a holiday that is so full of excess.   Isn’t a little sacrilegious to claim that we are doing any of this in his name?

But even so, what I miss from Christmas isn’t the Christ, as he is an ever present fixture in my life and I don’t need a single day to remind me of his presence, it’s the mass.  It’s the holy night.  It’s the coming together around the dying embers of a fire to keep hope that we will survive to another spring.  It’s sitting around the oven with the family, late at night when we’d normally all be in bed, watching my mother baking and realizing that we were still here, we’d weathered the first part of the year and we’d make it through, no matter how bad the times got.

We may not have toys, we may not have stuff, but we survived.

And there is a sacred sweetness in those memories that is just obliterated by the holiday.

There is a simple beauty there that cannot survive in the midst of the profanity of the holiday screaming at me from hundreds of billboards and store fronts, telling me what I need to feel happy.

The reason that Christmas isn’t sacred anymore isn’t about the name, or the “war”, or the whatever.  It is that nothing remains sacred once its existence depends on money changing hands, just as sex isn’t sacred when you’re buying it.  It’s just a transaction, then, and you can’t transact Christ.

This stupid “war on Christmas” turns Christ into a whore, and it takes the “mass” as well and trades it for consumption, as if it is what storefronts say that dictates the extent to which Jesus belongs to the holiday.  At the end of the day, all you are left with is the war.

All you are left with is your own dissatisfaction.

All you are left with is yourself.

All you are left with is the ironic realization that you cannot buy love, and God is love, and you can buy all the symbolism you want- but it will never,

Ever,

Ever,

Ever,

Ever be enough.

 

Photocredit: RVwithTito

Poor people lack integrity?

Often times, I’ll look back on my day  of work and feel like I’m just so insanely lucky to have my job.  But sometimes, just sometimes, I have more of a “WTF?!?!” feeling about my job.  Today is a “WTF, JOB” day, but only because of one writer.  She had a sort of rambling-incoherent essay about integrity and society which she had worked really hard to make more organized.  We tip-toed through it talking about the places where she didn’t have enough evidence to stake her claims and how she could have more of a central focus.  Inasmuch as that is concerned, she wasn’t so different from any other student.

No, what turned my stomach was in her conclusion, where she was talking about how society seems to reward bad behavior, and she threw in an aside about how lazy people are rewarded with food stamps and WIC.  Her teacher had written, in the margin, “lazy children and babies?”, a sentiment which I reflexively backed.  The student responded that she wasn’t really sure why her teacher had made that comment, and then flipped the paper over to show me a bit of a rant that said teacher had made about the working poor, which asked rather bluntly, “if a single mom works two part time jobs and still needs WIC & food stamps, how many jobs should she get?”

So the student and I talked briefly about the plight of the working poor, and I told her that if she wanted to make the argument that society rewards bad behavior she’d have to get another example, “if not because you understand what I’m saying, because your teacher clearly doesn’t think your argument is sound.”

I asked her if she thought that bankers who sold toxic mortgages being rewarded with cushy early retirement deals while the government bailed out their companies was a good example of what she meant.

“WHAT?”

I explained again.  “Do you think that they acted without integrity and were rewarded?”

The student blinked slowly.  “I don’t know.  What are you even talking about?  That’s not like, you know, a real thing that happened.”

I could hear my pulse pounding in my ears.  “Yes, yes it is.  Please google ‘toxic mortgage’ and read the news articles that come up.  It happened a few years ago but we still feel the effects of it today.  You’re younger than me, but you were old enough to be paying attention to the news during the recession…”

“It wasn’t, like, a real recession.”

“My family moved from Indiana to Yakima because there were no jobs.  Like, no jobs.  There was a place that was hiring twenty people and three thousand people applied.  If that isn’t a real recession, I don’t know what is.”

“But it was like not the bankers fault,” the girl said, “if it really was…”

“Please, just look it up,” I said, thinking that it sure as hell wasn’t the fault of babies on WIC.

But it left me feeling incredibly unsettled, this reflexive hatred towards poor people.  Only slightly less unsettling was the defensive trust of the rich.  Yet, what stuck with me was the instinctive way that she equated being poor with having no integrity, without flinching, assuming without having anything to base her argument on that anyone reading it would agree.  As if the final nail in the coffin when arguing that today’s society has lost its moral compass would be the fact that we feed babies and children whose parents cannot get by.

I don’t know, perhaps this is another sign of my own biases getting in the way of my better judgment, as I almost instantly wanted to tap out of the consultation and take up smoking just to burn off the stress.  Yet I cannot, even now, nine hours later, easily shake the sourness in my stomach and get on with life.  How is it that there is an entire population of our country that equate poverty with sin just as simply as I equate the sky with the color blue?  Yet, there is evidence that the sky is blue every day.

What, exactly, is the evidence that poor people are bad?

Where does that message even come from?

I would think that if you were going to write a essay about the duplicitous nature of our society, the better argument would be the fact that our government is more prone to cut food stamps than they are to cut subsidies to corporations, and that human life holds less sacredness than capitalism.

Yet, from the look in that girl’s eyes, I’m the one who isn’t really in touch with reality.

Heh.

Honestly, I’m not sure that reality is something I want to get my hands on these days.

Healthcare, Education, and Deep Sighs.

Last week I had a health scare, which may not have been the least bit scary if I had insurance.  As it was, I spent a week vomiting with the most painful diarrhea I’ve ever experienced, and I just waited it out.  I’m lucky, because the likely culprit is my family’s tendency towards food sensitivities, and not some kind of illness that would have required medication or hospitalization.  I stopped eating crackers and bread, started eating more bananas and yogurt, and have gone a whole day without my innards exploding.  Success!

As I was fighting with the sensation that Freddy Kreuger was trying to claw his way out of my bowels and wondering if I’d ever sleep through the night without crapping my pants again, I spent a lot of painfully wakeful hours in the bathroom ruminating over the things I was studying in school.  It was, to say the least, surreal.  My main topic of study, aside from linguistics, is cultural relations and race theory.  We’re reading the Pedagogy of the Oppressed by Paulo Freire, so in my mind I keep going back to the homeless shelter and thinking about my experiences there.  One of the main themes in my class journal is the way in which access to education creates systems of oppression.  “Wait,” the immediate response of classmates inevitably comes, “in the US everyone is guaranteed access to education!”

Access isn’t the same thing as success, I reply dryly.

Besides, you may have two roads- one clear of debris and potholes, guarded on both sides by a gate and gatekeeper who knows you by name.  The other is a dirt road which is washed out by rain half the time and prowled by wolves.  They may both grant you access to the city, but you really can’t fault the people who live at the end of the dirt lane for never moving beyond their immediate surroundings.  “Access” to education doesn’t mean that anyone is getting educated.

But that has nothing to do, really, with how sick I was last week.  The reason the two are inextricably tied together is the fact that my sickness started to really impact my education.  I was spending half of classes in the bathroom, I was distracted while reading, I was exhausted and out of sorts even when feeling “better”.  But I couldn’t go to the doctor, because I couldn’t pay for it.  If it was a food allergy that was starting to rear it’s ugly head there was no way I’d ever be able to pay for the bloodwork, colonoscopy, and other fancy tests to confirm it anyway.  Either I’d get better or I wouldn’t.

Yet in our society there are still swaths of people who look at students in my situation and tell them it’s their fault.  “WORK,” people will say, “SO YOU CAN TAKE CARE OF YOURSELF.”  As if picking up a second job wouldn’t have a pretty harrowing effect on my own health as well as the well-being of my children.  Hell, two short years ago I was working 40+ hours a week WHILE going to school full time, and my job didn’t even offer me benefits because I was technically “on call” even though all the hours I worked were scheduled- and I couldn’t afford to buy insurance because once groceries, rent, bills, and childcare were taken care of (my only expenses aside from school) I’d have $50 left at the end of any given month.

God help me the times the kids needed clothes, or I needed clothes, or anything went wrong.

At least the government covered the kid’s health care.

But I’m 30 now.  Time to start worrying about breast cancer and ovarian cancer and cervical cancer and heart disease.

What if any of those strike in the 2 years before I get my teaching certification?  What if they strike after I have my teaching certification and I can’t keep teaching?

Wonderful things to worry about while hugging a toilet seat at 3am, let me tell you.

And then for whatever reason, a rash of friends started whining about “Obamacare” on Facebook, and I felt my blood starting to boil.  The Affordable Care Act, for what it’s worth, will allow my whole family to have healthcare coverage.  It’ll mean the difference between being able to see a doctor after 24 hours of vomiting and holding out for a week to see if I get better.  (Anything more than a week is just too dangerous, even if it means going into debt I have no way to pay.)  I really don’t know if I have the words to know how to address it, but I feel like I have to try.

Not everyone has access to the kind of job that provides health care.  More and more, employers are hiring people as part-time or on call to avoid having to provide health care coverage.  Even jobs that traditionally gave benefits, like in the health care industry, are no longer dependable sources of coverage.  Soon, the only entry-level jobs that will offer coverage are ones that you have to have a high-powered degree to secure.

So for working class people, the idea of “get a job” to get coverage is a bit laughable.  My husband and I are both employed.  He easily works 50 hours a week, I work 15-20 and go to school full time.  We’re within 20% of the poverty line.  We budget, we pinch our pennies, but at the end of any given month what is left over is in the double digits, not enough to pay the $600 a month it would cost to get insurance through his job.  I consider myself fortunate to be able to go back to school and eventually have a job that will provide benefits for me, but in the meantime I’m on the orange-juice-and-crossed-fingers health care plan.

So let’s look at some of the lovely arguments I’ve seen for why the government shouldn’t provide health care to lower-income families like mine:

  1. It’s taking money from the rich and giving to the poor, and that’s communism/socialism.  There are many reasons why this argument is flawed.  This argument implies that nothing of merit is given back to the rich in return.  First, if my family has health care coverage we are less likely to be a bigger burden on the community in the long run.  We’ll get antibiotics before we have to go to the emergency room, for instance.  By doing that we’ll avoid racking up bills that we can’t pay, which means the costs currently incurred to pay for families like mine will be avoided.  The hospitals will be less overburdened, they’ll have to send less statements, they’ll have to employ less bill collectors and payment adjusters, and in the meanwhile working class people will miss less days of work, meaning they’ll be overall more productive and have more money to spend.  $$$, “Sweet!”, you should say, because that means a lower overall cost of providing health care which is more cost effective, doubled with a higher gross domestic profit which benefits all.  Hooray!  The second implication of this argument, and the one that I resent even more, is that families like mine somehow do not contribute to the overall well being of society.  We give charitably, we do our jobs well without complaining, we’re raising responsible kids who hope to have bright futures.  All of that is worth preserving, isn’t it?  The cost/benefit calculation shouldn’t start and end with “My money being spent on me > My money being spent on those jerks.”  It should take into account who people are capable of being when society better helps them meet their essential needs.  After all, we’ve already decided it is to society’s benefit that poor people with children be able to provide food for their kids, rather than those kids ending up in the system.   Health care is just as essential to a productive childhood as food.  Being healthcare unstable, or having parents who are healthcare unstable, is damaging to a child.  Trust me, it was not in my kid’s best interest that I spend a week puking up my guts and incapable of being able to devote my attentions to them.  It hurt my entire family.  Me having affordable access to healthcare will mean that my kids have the best possible parenting both in sickness and in health that I am capable of providing.  Having that means that they are better able to be successful in life and school and thus contribute to the economy when they are grown.  That’s good for me but also good for you- because an able worker is a funded consumer, and that should make sense to people who see $$$ as the bottom line.  We don’t want to raise a generation of kids who flunked out of school because they had to pick up the slack when their working poor parents with no healthcare got cancer- do we?
  2. I have to work for my healthcare, why does that asshole get it for free?  Trust me, buddy, If I could work for my healthcare I would.  I don’t have that option.  Not because I’m dumb, not because I’m irresponsible, not because I have no goals but because the career I have chosen requires me to be in school.  If I wasn’t in school, none of my employment options would offer health care.  I am one of so many of my peers left in the same boat- working diligently, saving pennies, trying to do the right thing but still creeping further and further behind as the rising cost of gas and wheat and milk and cheese and meat and school supplies and kids clothes and shoes and paper and everything else drags us further and further behind.  Oh, and the garbage bill and electric bill and water bill are all higher than they were two years ago, too, while paychecks are not rising.  Essentially, this argument says, “there is an entire class of people in our country who are not deserving of what I have because they aren’t as smart or privileged as me.”  Oh, buddy, trying saying to my face that I’m not as smart or deserving as you.  (I know I’m not as privileged, that’s cool, I don’t need to be.)  Not only are you saying that this entire class of people- really, the bottom half of “middle class” that is too poor to buy out of pocket insurance but not poor enough for government benefits, is not as valuable to our economy as everyone else.  If you really think that, I don’t know how to respond.  People who are sick, overworked, and worry don’t consume goods, and people who don’t consume goods don’t keep the economy going.  Giving the lower middle class a little relief ensures that they continue to consume- the only other option be that they improve their lot independently (impossible, as new jobs being created tend to be either lower in quality than current jobs being lost, or requiring licensure that means going back to school) or just give up and go on benefits- which means they will contribute to the economy even less.
  3. Everything Obama Does Must Be Bad.  (Or- MARK OF THE BEAST.)  If you disagree with everything Obama does because, well, you feel obligated to, why are you reading my blog? If you think that anything equating to socialized health care will lead to the mark of the beast, allow me to reassure you.  The Bible says that everyone (I.E, EVERYONE) will be forced to wear the mark of the beast to buy and sell.  It doesn’t say for healthcare.  So, there are two ways to look at this:  one is that healthcare isn’t buying and selling, so this isn’t the mark of the beast.  The other is to realize that the mark of the beast is a prophetic inevitability, so wondering about it is an exercise in fear mongering that God really would never encourage.  The spirit he gives us is not a spirit of fear.  Yet, if you want to be concerned about the Mark, here’s something to be more concerned about:  More and more, buying and selling is happening based off of unique identifiers or user IDs associated with the codes imbedded with mobile devices.  You can totally walk into your favorite coffee shop with presets in your phone that let them know what you want for breakfast, and then walk back out without any money changing hands!  It’s all automatic!  How long before your unique identifier is tattooed onto your hand or forehead?  Now, if you want to worry about the mark, worry about that.  Give me my health care, please.

Honestly, health care is an essential human right.  I believe that.  No one should ever have to face their body being damaged because they do not have the money to keep it in good health.  Without our bodies, we have nothing.  Yet there are hundreds of thousands of people who have to suffer unnecessary complications, face ridiculous health risks, or wallow in stressful uncertainty because they do not have the money to pay for health care.  Are those people really any less valuable to society than you?  If we want a society where everyone thrives, that has to be a society where no one faces an untreated chronic illness because they can’t afford a doctor, where kids never have to watch a parent unable to get basic care, where kids never drop out of high school or college to work because a parent is diagnosed with a chronic illness without healthcare and cannot provide for themself, and so on.  A healthy society is one where health care is available to all, so all are the most free they possibly can be to contribute and consume.

The Affordable Care Act is just the first of many more measures that need to be taken to be sure that America is a place where everyone is healthy and contributing.  This is necessary for the survival of our society, and I strongly believe that.  I hope this rambling explanation is in any way helpful in explaining my reasons.

Mennonites and Ladybugs and Me Learning Not to Whine.

In the last week, I’ve seen six conservative Mennonite women with their hair pinned under bonnets and long, flowing, flower dresses.  I know it was 6 times because I counted.  There was one working in the emergency room, there was another one shopping at Target, another one shopping at Safeway, one walking around the campus at my school, and two walking together downtown.  This stands out so clearly to me, because in the entire time I’ve lived in Yakima I’ve never noticed one.  People have told me that there is a conservative community out there, somewhere, as in:  “I think they live in Moxee and make cheese.”  But have I ever seen evidence of their existence?  No, I would have noticed.  (I think.)

So this past week I’ve been wondering why now?  I’ve been missing my home town desperately, so maybe it’s just my mind being tuned to the signs of what I lack.  Or perhaps in all my praying about where the future may lead, this is the universe’s way of reassuring me.  Or, who knows.

Yesterday while I was in the garden, I saw hundreds of ladybugs.  I always see ladybugs in times of great change.

I was crying.  It’s hard to verbalize why.  I was picking tomatoes and red beans furiously.  Just furiously.  I was angry because my best friend moved to the other side of the country.  I miss her, I miss having very many friends.  I feel so lonely most of the time.  It’s not because I don’t have friends in Yakima, although I pretend I don’t so I can feel sorry for myself.  I have a lot of friends but not close friends, not “let me lay my troubles on you” friends, although I have many friends that could become that if I took the time to nurture the relationship.  I suppose I was crying because I was realizing how selfish I can be, how selfish I’ve allowed the past five years to make me.  How guarded and defensive I’ve become, how unwilling I’ve become to invest in others.  How resentful I’ve become of my life.  And why?  Why am I feeling that way?

My life right now doesn’t suck.  I enjoy school, I enjoy work, I don’t fantasize about my husband getting in a car wreck and dying.  Life has made progress!

But I still feel the hangover of exhaustion from all the trauma that led me here, the constant desire for some kind of vacation that I will never get.  It’s been years since I’ve had a single night away from the children.  YEARS.  I can’t even put my finger on the last time I woke up in the morning not feeling completely exhausted.

I sit in the garden picking red beans and wondering when that chore will end.  Why?  I enjoy it.

I stare at the tomatoes and wonder if I should stop watering the garden and let them die.  Why?  I enjoy them.

I curse the fact that anything, even the things I love, even friendships, ask something of me.  Why?  Why?  Why?

When did I decide that I have nothing left to give, no more energy to invest, no more desire to make the effort to make my own life better? I’ve spent the last 30 years waiting for someone to come along and take care of me, and there is still this little part of me that constantly says, “damn it.  Why do I have to take care of myself?”

My mom’s latest favorite phrase is that we have to be ridiculously responsible for our own worlds.

Ridiculously responsible.

It’s still something I’m learning.

But somewhere in the mess of the garden ending, in the gallon of dried pods of red beans and the pile of halfhearted tomatoes, in the soil that badly needs more nutrition and the yard that is giving up on life for lack of nutrients, I heard a small voice asking me if I was willing to be taken care of.  Isn’t all of this part of the same cycle, the cycle wherein I pretend there’s nothing I can do?  As if my life is still something that happens to me, I am still a victim, instead of someone who is capable of making life what I need it to be.

I swear, I heard God laughing.  As if he can’t be my rest, my care, my friend.

As if I’ve been missing the point.

There were ladybugs everywhere, on everything, crawling on my hands.  I was wondering, have I even seen ladybugs out here before?

It’s okay.  It’s okay that I don’t know my future.  I haven’t known my future for five years now, and it’s been okay.  So I had one future wrenched away.  So what?  That future wouldn’t have been good for me.  I do have friends, I do have a life, I do have ladybugs.

I’ll get some sleep eventually.

I tell myself I don’t know how much longer I can remain strong, how much work is left in me.

But don’t I want to find out?

It’s like resenting going to the gym but at the same time wanting a nice body.

When am I going to learn to be grateful for the fact that here, now, I have a chance to make my life something that nourishes me?

So I laid down in the dirt like a crazy person and laughed and cried.  The neighbor walked by and said, “garden fell apart, eh?”

I threw a tomato at him and replied, “it still makes food, ya jerk.”

We had a good laugh.

Laughing is good.

Musings on Determination

So a few very short weeks ago, my daughter decided on the spur of the moment that she really needed a frog.  She found an old aquarium in the shed, got it cleaned up, and announced that she was saving up money.  I looked at her allowance jar, which was crammed full of crumpled dollar bills, and told her that she already had enough money.  Aquatic frogs are $2, food for them is $2 more, and she had money to spare.  Mission accomplished.

While we were at the store, she happened to spot a chameleon.  A new obsession was formed before we were even back out in the car.  Princess says, “MOM.  I want a chameleon.  Bad.”

I turn to her father, thinking, “what do I say?”  He is clearly looking at me and thinking the same.  I say, “well, maybe if you saved up money we could buy a terrarium for your birthday…?”  My husband nods, and I think, “Oh thank God we dodged a bullet.”  It had taken her a few months to put back fifty cents here and fifty cents there and finally have enough money to want to buy anything.  How long would it take before she wanted to buy a few candy bars, or a new book, and decided that saving up the money for a chameleon was just too much work?

But, no.  Princess was googling things like “what does a chameleon eat?” and “what does a chameleon live in?” and pretty soon “how to raise mealworms” and “good plants for a chameleon” and she was drawing up diagrams and randomly announcing things like “WE WILL NEED TO BUY MORE PLANTS” and “FLOWERS ARE OKAY”.  And one day a couple of different terrariums were in my Amazon shopping cart and she was announcing, “I’ll need the one that costs more than one hundred dollars I think.”

So I sat down and explained to her that even cutting her grandpa’s roses for five dollars every week, she would just barely make enough money to buy the chameleon, and there were limits to what her dad and I could afford to spend.  If she wanted that terrarium, she would need to make a little more money.  She said, “I want my Chameleon for the fourth of July.”

Oh, sweetheart.  Oh, you darling naive girl.  I explained to her that such a thing meant making a whole lot of money in just a few weeks.  “Mom, have you ever needed to make a whole lot of money in just a few weeks?”

Oh, sure, I used to make and sell jewelry.  Once I wrote a book.

Princess very matter-of-factly replies that she doesn’t want to write a book, but I should see if any of my friends need new jewelry.  “I’m good at making jewelry.”

This is true, she’s good at making jewelry.

So Princess started asking who needed jewelry, and in a few days she had $30 dollars.  Then she had $100.  I told my husband we should start thinking about how we were coming up with our share of the money.  “If she wants it before her birthday she needs to figure out how to pay for it.”

God help us, I thought, she’s only eight.  But I guess we all need to learn hard lessons somehow.

Never mind.  By the end of two weeks she had enough orders to buy the Super-Mega-Terrarium-Of-Awesome-Proportions, we were just waiting for checks to come in.  Then she threw a curveball, and spent a third of her money on making Super Expensive Necklaces for her grandmothers.  Oh, Princess.  It wasn’t a big deal, she said, she could still make more money.

And she did.

I tell you that whole story to tell you something else:  no one told her that she was just eight.  She didn’t realize eight-year-old girls don’t buy themselves $50 dollar lizards that come needing $100 terrariums and another $100 in accouterments.   She set a goal for herself, and heaven provide for anyone that didn’t buck up and get in line.  (Including her mother, who had to take her to the bead store every morning and do the finishing on freak-ton of necklaces and address twenty envelopes and make payment arrangements and keep the books.  All of this as Priority One on Princess’s daily “to-do” lists, above even breakfast.*)  She set her goal, and then she looked at the world around her and tried to figure out what she had available so she could meet it.

She didn’t look at the world around her before setting her goal.

She didn’t ask anyone’s opinion of if her goal even made sense.

See, I realize there are times I did things backwards.  I asked people if my goals made sense, then I looked at the world around me, and I decided I needed different goals.  I didn’t ask myself how much my goals mattered and then mangle reality to my will.

I’ve decided that I’m going to hold off on explaining to Princess that she’s still a little kid and sometimes she can’t make the world give her what she wants.  May that be true, sometimes?  I suppose it must, eventually,  it is when she wants to sneak out of bed and get chocolate ice cream, or when she wants to force her brother to wear a princess outfit so she can be Iron Man for once.  I mean, it’s true as often as it needs to be.  But about the other stuff, the stuff that has to do with her dreams, does it need to be true?  I’m guessing if I don’t kill her optimism it will be less often than I think, even if it’s more often than she wants.

The truth of the matter is that I don’t want to break her.

I need to figure out how it is that she does it.

 

__________________________________________________________

*There are limits.  I did eat breakfast first.

Oz: The Great and Powerful (and everything I hate about gender stereotypes in movies).

If you’ve heard me rant about strong women on TV, you know I have a huge (massive, epic even) ax to grind when it comes to how women are written for the screen.  I mean, really, do all women have to fawn over men who treat them badly?  Do women have to be good to get the guy?  And on, and on, and on. I’d heard that the new Oz movie wasn’t particularly good and not to expect too much from it.  That’s okay, we were really only going to the theater as a treat for the kids, I could lower my expectations accordingly.  I wasn’t prepared for how intensely bad the writing was.  For your edification, let me count the ways:

  1. A kingdom full of intensely powerful witches really can’t handle crap for themselves.  They need a powerful, male, wizard to come straighten things out for them.
  2. The protagonist is a shallow and selfish egomaniac who has never done anything good for anyone, even his best friend. Yet the audience is clearly expected to identify with and applaud this absolute nimrod.  Why?  Because of his roguish grin?  Because he’s attractive?  Because for three nanoseconds he shows signs of having a conscience?  I don’t understand why men in film get incredible license to be absolute jerkfaces that their mother would be embarrassed to call their own but audiences still cheer for them- but what do you call a woman who is that selfish and ignorant of the consequences of her actions?
  3. All of the women fawn over this selfish brat.  Even the smartest woman in the film, Glinda the “good”, is completely reliant on him and ends up falling for him.  (Even though when she first meets him, she says she knows that he’s a selfish liar.)
  4. Do we really need another movie whose romantic plot boils down to a selfish man who leaves a chain of broken hearts in his wake with no thought to consequences just needing someone good, pure, and innocent to believe in his better nature so that he ultimately becomes a better man?  What’s the moral there?  Your actions don’t have consequences because when the right one comes along you’ll be different?  And girls, it doesn’t matter how much of a rat a guy is, your love can change him?
  5. It’s not like it’s a redemption story.  Oz becomes all powerful by using the same cheats and sleight of hand that he always did, but do we ever know that he does it for a different reason than what he always had?  Did he do it to be good, or to become more powerful?
  6. There’s a dual story arc I find troubling.  Oz, the character, is selfish and self-serving and is ultimately rewarded with a kingdom.  The two evil sister-witches are selfish and self-serving, and are rewarded by being made ugly and exiled from society.  Whaaaaat?  It’s okay to be selfish, as long as you’re male.
  7. Glinda’s power is being good, and she shoots rainbows and bubbles.  In the Oz universe this is logical.  But in the real world, how far does sweetness and innocence get a girl?  Maybe this is just me being jaded, but the fantasy can only be taken so far, and the trope of the sweet innocent girl’s love changing the jaded heart of the bad boy is so done.  Plus, her goodness wasn’t enough to protect her people  by itself.  She needed a man who cheated and tricked others in order to stay safe.  Wonderful.

Okay, okay, so it’s a fantasy movie.  And, to an extent, it had to be faithful to the fantasy it precedes.  Everyone knows that Oz is a trickster and Glinda is good and on and on.  Okay, so there’s that.  Did they have to make this movie?

But I can only be so bitter. It gave me something to get my blood boiling for an afternoon, and the heaving bosoms were glittery and abundant, so that’s always nice in a film.

le sigh.