“You work and go to school? Who takes care of your kids?”

So I’ve seen this blog post getting linked around Facebook, and I’ve mostly scrolled by it with a good-natured “harrumph”.  It’s Matt Walsh writing about how his wife is doing a bang-up job of raising his kids, what with the birthing life into being and instilling of morals and hygiene and societal values while staying at home and never having a career anymore.  Most of the people I’ve seen linking to it are stay-at-home moms, and I don’t want to disparage what they do.  But one friend of mine took exception to Walsh’s tone because it seemed really patronizing to the mothers who do work, and that made me think about a lot of things.

Let me start by saying that being a stay at home mom is hard, incredibly hard.  I did it for five years, and looking back I think it was more emotionally draining and difficult than parenting while working.  You never get to clock out of being a parent, especially when your kids are on top of you every second of the day and a good bit of the night.  It’s hard to deal with feeling unappreciated and unproductive.  It’s nice to get a pat on the back every once in a while from someone who affirms stay-at-home-mommyness as something of a sacred calling.  But being a working mother is a whole different type of hard, and while I can’t say the two are equal or unequal, what I can say is it takes a strong-ass woman to do either with any amount of grace.  Women who manage to actively raise their kids into productive members of society in today’s world deserve praise REGARDLESS of their employment status.

My family needed me to have an income, so I went to work.  Then, I went to school and work.  And it’s funny, because while my professional life post-stay-at-home-mommydom has gotten me many “god bless your heart” pouts and shoulder rubs and people with wide eyes saying, “how do you MANAGE?”; there’s a lot less of a sense of screw-everyone-else solidarity amongst working women than there was in the stay at home mom world.

I suppose there’s a feeling that we’re betraying someone, or something.

It doesn’t help when people, in feigned congratulations of my courage, say things like “so you go to school AND you work?  Who takes care of your kids?”

Um, I do.  And their dad.  We raise our children together, thanks for implying that I am somehow crippled as a mother because there are hours I am not home.  No, I can’t always pick them up from school or tuck them in to bed.  But I am present in their lives, the moon that pulls their tides, regardless of if I am available to them every second of the day (including bathroom breaks) or if I am only with them for two hours.  What matters is if the connection to them is actively nurtured.  What matters is when over dinner I ask them what the happiest and saddest moment of their day was.  What made you feel victorious?  What made you feel like you failed?  What will you work harder at tomorrow and what you do differently?  What can I do for you?  Is there anything you want to talk about?  Want to cuddle and read a book?  Need me to mend the sleeve of your dress?

I mean, I may have to boil a days worth of parenting into a few hours sometimes, but there are other days I’m home all day.  There are days where I give my essay project the middle finger and decide to make cupcakes with my daughter or play Minecraft with my son.  I still actively work at being a parent.  I do not shove that responsibility off on anyone else (except their father, who actively shares it).

Being a mother is hard.  Being a parent is hard.  It’s hard whether or not you work.  All of the reasons to stay at home, or to go to work, belong to the parent and not to society.  Stay at home moms need to ask themselves if they have the patience.  Can they go for a few years without even peeing alone or reading a book uninterrupted?  This is a serious question, because child abuse happens when they cannot.  Working moms have to ask themselves can they feel connected to their child if someone else is the one seeing the first steps, hearing the first word?  Can they marvel at their children without having to know every detail?  These are serious questions.  My dad got a lot of Monkeypants’s firsts.  That was really difficult for me.  But you know what?  I get her everydays, and her everydays do not suck.  They amaze me.

Mothers shouldn’t have to stay at home to be congratulated and praised.  Fathers should be praised, too.  You know why?  Because like Matt Walsh says we bring life into the world and we rear it… regardless of whether or not we have another job.  We worry about our children and we do our best to raise them well.  We give ourselves to them, we center our efforts around them… and, yeah, sometimes we make getting or keeping or furthering careers a priority because as a parent we have a responsibility to ourselves as well.  We have a responsibility to model how to be a good member of society, and sometimes that means learning how to be a doctor or a schoolteacher or a nurse or an accountant or what have you.  And sometimes for financial or spiritual or personal reasons that means staying at home.

Sure it does.

But whatever being a parent means, we shouldn’t all have to be competing with each other to prove that we are somehow good parents regardless of how we live our lives.  We’re good parents because of who we are to our children and who they are to us.


Princess or Warrior?

Brace yourself for a ramble.

So last night, my darling two year old, MonkeyPants, decided to dive-bomb me from the pass through behind the couch and nailed me between the ribs with her knee, causing me a world of hurt.  This is something that she does often.  Her favorite thing is when I’m folding laundry on the bed.  She’ll come up behind me and dive over my shoulder, and I have to catch her with one hand or she’ll do a full roll and sometimes tumble off the bed. Of course she has to plant it JUST RIGHT or I also get a knee in the back of the head.  Now, I’m not complaining.  I can take a good beating and still keep a smile on my face, and I have to say that one thing I love the MOST about MonkeyPants is that she is WILD.  I love having a wild daughter.  I love wondering what she’ll come up with next and seeing her control of her body grow.  It’s incredible, because at two she can lay out her 7 year old brother flat and get him in an arm bar, and she’ll tousle with the dogs and cats and pretty much everything.  She once saw a video of Steve Irwin wrestling a crocodile and, with awe in her voice, pointed and said, “I DO THAT.”

I wouldn’t be surprised if some day she did.

And then this morning she picks out the FRILLIEST, PINKEST, most bedecked in bows and layers of ruffles, most princessy dress she owns and wanted me to do her hair with a pouffed up hair piece.  And I did it all, chuckling to myself because here’s the girl who quite possibly dislocated one of my ribs in a Tarzan-like performance last night wanting to be the perfect little princess, probably so she could sit on the dogs and yell at them in style.

But I have to wonder, why should these things not belong together perfectly?  Why can’t a girl be a crocodile hunter in a pink frilly frock?  (Of course there is the maneuverability problem.)  But honestly, why is it that these days there are so many anti-princess sites telling people not to tie their kids down to the princess ideal?  I get that you don’t want to force being a princess on a child, or portray it as the only or best option, but why is it that these days it seems like being a princess is the enemy?

If the goal is to let our children determine who they want to be without restriction, being a frilly pink crocodile-wrestling mountain exploring zoologist should be on the table.

Princesses don’t have to be helpless, simpering idiots.

After all, Leia was a princess and she was a better shot than Han or Luke!

Okay, okay, so I get that by and large in the Disney-style mainstream princess culture, pretty girls are helpless prisoners of their beauty, like Snow White, who have to be saved by someone else.  All they are good for is keeping things pretty.  But do we really want to send the message to our girls that being beautiful is the enemy?  That by seeking beauty you are limiting yourself?  That you should hate pink dresses and all they represent?

Someone else decided that pink and frilly meant demure and in need of masculine aid.  I want MonkeyPants to decide for herself what it means, and God help anyone who sees her in a pink dress and decides she’s delicate.  By Heaven, she will rain down punishment on them from above and get them in an arm bar and force them to admit that being feminine does not mean being weak.

And I love that about her.

I love her in a pink dress sitting on her brother’s shoulders and telling him he’s being Batman wrong.

There’s always been this debate about Xena the Warrior Princess and whether or not she’s a decent feminist role model because of the iron bikini.

I mean, screw that.

By choosing to be beautiful women are not objectifying themselves.  Beauty, delicateness, comfort, submission, providing for others, selflessness, none of these are qualities that we should desire to beat out of our daughters.  Princess or warrior is a false choice.

No woman is an object as long as she never allows herself to be made silent and stationary.

And putting a dress on MonkeyPants certainly doesn’t shut her up!

It’s been a while.

We’ve grown enmeshed like two trees rooted in the same earth

inseparable unless we leave some part of ourselves in each other

I keep telling myself that I need to write something about the past two years.  I have, in a way.  I wrote becoming.  It was about parts of my passage, some of it so heavily coded that you would only decipher the details if you knew me very well.  But becoming was also about far more than just the past two years, it was really about the past eleven years and my fears for the next twenty.  Am I a good mother?  Do I love my mom?  Do I love my husband?  Am I becoming something better or worse than who I used to be?  Becoming is a rite of passage, a collection of battle scars.  I feel like I need to tell the truth directly because while I am repentant about some things and conflicted about others I don’t want to feel ashamed about any of it, and there are people in my life that know a lot about what exactly happened but have very little to hold on to about why.

Here’s the thing:  my husband and I spent almost a year separated.  It was a very dark time in my life.  I felt completely wrecked.  I knew we couldn’t go on living in the same house together.  I was suffering from what I later found out may have been a mild kind of post-traumatic-stress disorder.  I was constantly hyper-aware of everything, couldn’t sleep, and felt panicked every time I was in the same room with my husband.  It felt like every time we talked about what was wrong it made things worse.  I was starting to question my sanity and I was starting to get darkly suspicious of him.  I worried that he might really, truly, physically hurt me.  I worried that I might completely break down even if he didn’t.  I felt so completely lost.  So I left.  I didn’t know what else to do.

Then, the internal questions.  Does this mean I’m a failure as a wife?  Am I a bad Christian?  What do I say to the kids?  What will become of me?  How will I make it through the next few years?  The years after that?  Will there ever be a time that I feel whole and happy?  It was the best and worst year of my life.  It was the worst in that I was working 36 hour work weeks and going to school full time.  I had to schedule my time with my own children so that I didn’t forget to interact with them.  And my home got to be the kind of home I wanted it to be.  The TV wasn’t on all the time, we ate dinner at the table, we felt happy and safe together.  (Aside from the big gaping wound just beneath the surface inside of me, that always seemed to split the stitches at the least opportune times.)  It wasn’t fun to have to struggle for a GPA I could be proud of; like the time I forgot to print my homework because I’d worked two twelve hour night shifts over the weekend and only got about four hours of sleep before coming in to school, massive migraine in tow, and had to go beg my teacher for full credit.  Thankfully the instructor understood, but I’ll never forget the look on her face when I confessed to being a single mom with an infant and two kids in school, that I was so unsure of my own capability to get through school.  She just said, “you’re getting through,” and left it at that.

My husband and I ended up reconciling, and that in and of itself has led to a lot of difficult questions.  He continues to do the work that is needed for our relationship to get better, but as in all things it waxes and wains and I have to stomach my doubts.  I have to wonder if I’ve made the right choices.  I have to wonder if our relationship will ever be what we both dream and believe it could be.  I have to wonder how we’ll put that year behind us, how we’ll ever fit back together now that we’ve lived and grown separately.

Is this cold flesh moving once again until rot corrupts and the stitches no longer hold the form together?

Or is it soft and sacred as a newborn baby’s face with the scent of fresh birth still lingering in it’s hair?

What do we call ourselves?

And then I look at all of the growing and changing that has happened, and even with all of the scars I realize that I would not give up this experience.  When I was first considering the reconciliation a friend of mine asked me what I would say to the 19 year me if I could find her and talk to her.  Would I say run?  Would I say go for it?  Whatever I would say to myself then should be what I say to myself now, that friend said.  But I realized that if I could find the 19 year old me and talk to her I would tell her to never stop believing that love can change everything, and I don’t want to stop believing that now.  It’s completely foolish to believe that the changes are always what we want, that the love is always perfect, that the end result is always purely good.  We’re human, and sometimes humans hurt each other.  We’re made of flesh and that flesh can scar.  We have our own motives and sometimes we’re blinded by them.

But even in the moments where we kill each other, kill ourselves, in our selfishness there is still beauty that can be born there.  The stories of the Bible are stories of corruption and renewal, death and rebirth, slavery and exodus, captivity and freedom.  It comes in a cycle as people live and forget, lose and remember.  And those stories in the end are what all humanity shares.  We’re all on the same journey.  And I look at my husband and realize that he can love me despite never fully understanding what went wrong, and I can love him without knowing what changed, and we can both live with our past without believing it has cursed our future, and then I trust God.

I barely remember parts of the past two years, especially the almost-year I spent alone.  Huge parts of it are already lost to me, probably because the immense amount of stress I was under.  My brain would go on autopilot.  I’d drive home and put the car in park and not remember driving there.  I’d look at the clock at work and realize four hours had passed that I could barely remember, but when I panicked and double checked I’d been doing my job.  I’d wake up in the morning and not remember having gone to bed, but there I was.  And throughout that whole process I learned to relax because I just knew that someone out there must really love me, and want me safe.

I can remember the moment I realized it would be okay.  And it was, it has been.  It will continue to be.  And my biggest question, the one I’ve struggled with the most?  You know the one, I’m sure.  “What am I becoming?  It is better, or worse?”  It makes me smile, because the one thing I’ve learned more than anything else is that if you move towards God you could never become worse.  Little things happen to remind me of how I used to react, what I used to think and feel.  I realize that I am not who I used to be, and as I trust myself more I can learn better how to trust others.

I think I died, somewhere in that year alone.  Not my physical body, obviously, but somewhere deep inside of myself some version of who I was died.  Sometime in one of those moments where my conscious brain just shut itself off and hid, some part of me died.  And I’m okay with that, because it’s part of the journey.  I think it was the part of me that doubted the most, that wanted to hold on to its hate, that wanted revenge, that thought that I shouldn’t have to share the blame in what went wrong.

But when I snapped out of it, late at night, and wondered how I’d ended up in bed safe and warm with my daughter in my arms, I heard a voice tell me it would be okay now.

And it has been.

Every tree knows it was once a seed covered by earth,

Dead and then not dead, not undying.

*Pieces of poetry from a larger work called “you wouldn’t call a tree a zombie”, written a month after the reconciliation.

Fear our Love.

Christians are not the parents of this world.  I say that because at times we act as if we are.  We want to dole out punishment and appropriate discipline to all those whom we see as disobeying.  “Hey. single mom, your current struggles are the natural consequence of your actions!  If you’d followed God’s plan your life wouldn’t be so hard!”  Or, “hey, gay person, you’ve got to get straight to get to God or you’ll burn in hell, m’kay?”  Or, “Hey, society, just going to change a few laws over here to keep your Judeo-Christian values right or God is gonna judge us all, don’t want that happening!”

Missing the point, missing the point, missing the point.

We aren’t society’s parents.  There’s a difference between being God’s ministering hands and feet to express the Gospel to this world and being God’s spank paddle.  One, we are called to be.  The other?  We aren’t.  See, the thing is, all of humanity is called to be God’s sons and daughters.  We’re all siblings.  When I tell my son if he throws his toys his toys are going in my closet and he’s getting a time out, his sister is right there to let me know that her brother is stressed and angry and he can’t help it and he needs a hug and if I give him a time out I’m Mean Mommy.  When I tell her that if she doesn’t respond to me because she’s watching a video I’m going to turn off the TV, her brother is right there to defend her.  They’ve got each other’s backs.  And when I dole out the discipline and go into the other room, guess who is sneaking in to hug and kiss and talk their sibling through it?  That’s the way of things.  I, as my gay Christian friends sister in Christ, see my first and foremost job as being their advocate, not being their jury.  I also don’t need to be their voice of conviction because that is why Christ sent us the Holy Spirit.  What they do need is me as their sister, the one who will stay up late to whisper to them.  The one who will argue for them in the face of judgment.  The one who will conspire with them to wreak havoc when necessary.  Their partner in humanity.

Sometimes, when I read Christian magazines and articles online, I start to picture the Bride of Christ as a nagging wife, saying “didn’t I tell you last week if you didn’t stop that you’d burn in Hell?  How many times must I remind you?”  It saddens me deeply.  Our example is supposed to be Christ, the one who came to Earth to advocate for our healing.  The one who gave us freedom from beneath the law.  The one who acted as the supreme advocate, standing between us and our judgment at the expense of his body, his dignity, and his life.  Yet in his name we enforce the law at the expense of faith, bullying, belittling, and threatening our fellow humans, our fellow brothers and sisters, until they turn from the Church with a resigned sigh, throw up their hands, and disavow God.

And why shouldn’t they?  When I punish my children unfairly, without any sympathy, grace or mercy, because I myself am scared and frustrated, they turn from me.  Our words must be selfless.  They must be motivated by love.  They must be tempered with knowledge of God’s grace and mercy and kindness.  They must be modeled after Christ.  They must never be motivated by our own fears.  Let’s be honest with ourselves- a lot of the condemnation the church heaps out is fear-centered.  No gay marriage?  We’re afraid of the consequences to society.  Discipline the single mother?  We’re afraid of the reputation that embracing her would give our church, and afraid she’s going to keep sleeping around, and afraid that she’s going to expect us to help her out and take her responsibilities on ourselves.  Rebuke the tattooed punk?  Let’s be honest, we don’t understand him.  We find his attitude offensive.  We’re afraid of what he’ll act like if he sticks around.  And that gay sixteen year old boy?  If we don’t rebuke him, he might be gay forever.  And we’re terrified of what that might mean.

It’s not God, it’s fear.  And when we reprimand our fellow man in God’s name, claiming that it is love, all we ultimately do is teach them to fear and reject God.  Are we supposed to hold each other accountable in love?  Absolutely.  Just like how my son will whisper to his sister that Mommy said something and she’d better say “yes mom”.  Just like my daughter will tell my son, “If mom sees you doing that she will be SO MAD.”  But that is something done out of charity, something done out of love, something done out of sympathy and a common goal.  It’s done to improve a life, not to condemn actions.  When we intercede with each other we have to do it out of God’s spirit and heart, and with knowledge of the consequences of our actions.

When I see the multitude of people who love God but are ashamed of Christianity, all I can think is that if we truly were doing things God’s way the result of our actions wouldn’t be fruits of bitterness, doubt, and loss of faith.

Somewhere, something has gone horribly wrong.

Random Monday

  1. In family life: I suddenly understand why men calls tears “emotional blackmail”.  My son has started to have these violent tantrums in which he and others can get seriously injured (Picture a thirty five pound toddler bucking, kicking, punching, screaming, rolling, and throwing large objects), and about three seconds after the screaming, biting and hair pulling is done, he starts crying and saying “mommy cuddles mommy cuddles I need I need I need”.  Yes, so I get it.  It doesn’t seem fair if one minute someone is trying their best to hurt you, and the next minute they are crying and you feel as if you HAVE to hold them because you love them.  But- I hold him, because I love him.  And I suspect he knows this is the case, otherwise he wouldn’t push the boundaries constantly.
  2. In Religion:  I recently wrote a “highlights” version of Ecclesiastes, which goes as follows:  “Everything human is futile.  Careers, politics, trying to stay ahead of the Joneses.  We work all day long and what do we get?  Broken backs and sweaty faces and barely enough food to get us through the day.  All of our effort adds up to nothing but pain.  So what should we do?  Enjoy what we can, make love to our spouses, find pleasure in things before they fade away.”  I once heard an Atheist call Ecclesiastes the “most honest book of the Bible”.  I agree.
  3. In Politics:  In case anyone has forgotten, there are perfectly valid reasons to support either candidate.  For instance, one might support John McCain because they feel that his promise to regulate the Medical Industry more fully is more practical than Obama’s promise to work towards government sponsored health insurance.  Or they may want to make inroads towards privatized social security, or a revamping of the Veteran’s Administration.  People may support Obama because they want easier vouchers for childcare, a revamp of Federal Education grants, work towards a balanced budget or a quicker withdrawal from Iraq.  Keep in mind that there are actual issues at stake and talk about those.  For the love of all that is holy- DO NOT ALLOW the conversation to devolve to a “he said, she said” playground squabble.  We’re all better than that.
  4. In Food:  I have processed and canned over thirty jars of food in the past month.  I’m exhausted.  But I’m also looking forward to a very yummy winter.  (Except… anyone want grape jelly?  Five quarts seems excessive, and there are still grapes on the vine.)
  5. In Fashion:  Leggings…  are they really for people over the age of ten?  Inquiring minds want to know.
  6. In Television: I’m getting tired of the comparisons between X-Files and Fringe.  Just because they both involve a very attractive and brilliant FBI agent suddenly paired with a quirky and fast-quipping tall, handsome man whom people distrust and sometimes mock and they both involve “fringe” science, unexplainable phenomena and a vast conspiracy that involves a secretive government task-force doesn’t mean they are remotely the same.  After all, X-Files respected the procedural aspect of the drama.  And Fringe has more one-liners.
  7. In Bacon: I keep hearing about bacon covered chocolate.  It’s heresy.  Chocolate and Bacon are sacred, and should be kept separated with as much respect and trepidation as Church and State.